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Picture this: you’ve just finished collecting all the data obtained from your survey, and it looks to be a resounding success. Graphs, charts, organized values for multiple choice answers and……wait, what’s this? You stare blankly at your screen as you scroll through pages and pages of open text responses, realizing that you’re going to have to analyze and attempt to categorize every single one (or at least hire someone to do the job for you).

Thankfully, there are ways to avoid this dilemma. Part of the solution is understanding why open-ended questions are asked in the first place and to implement them when they’re needed. This article will go through some basic details outlining how to incorporate open text responses into your survey, without having to sort through a barrage of lengthy and time consuming answers.

Save time and money by using open text responses effectively

The difference between quantitative and qualitative research

At its purest form, quantitative research is any research that can be measured in numerical data or other forms of information, while qualitative research produces data that is immeasurable or non-numerical. Most surveys focus primarily on conducting quantitative research in the form of pre-determined answers that are given hidden values, which are then analyzed and calculated after the survey data has been collected. These typically come in the form of multiple choice questions, scale-based questions or questions related to demographics. Qualitative research is generally conducted through asking in-depth, open ended questions, which allow respondents to reply through a provided open field or text box. A good survey will have a balance between both types of research, so as not to exhaust respondents with the same repetitive format over and over again.

When to use qualitative research for your survey

Qualitative research is often performed during the early phase of the survey creating process, which can heavily influence the quantitative data the researchers wish to gather . For example, a company may want to study the personal traits and habits of their target market, which would require in-depth questions regarding their lifestyle choices and activities. Having this information can then help you form narrow-based questions that focus on common characteristics surrounding your chosen demographic.

When creating your survey, you will often need to ask questions that help justify a previous answer that a respondent gave. This is part of your qualitative research, since you’re asking ‘why’ a certain response was given and is something that cannot be measured or categorized (at least not easily). However, this kind of information is valuable because it provides insight into a person’s response, which would not have been possible with a typical multiple choice or close ended question. Another example of implementing an open ended response could be adding ‘other’ and providing space for a response, in conjunction with a list of possible answers to choose from.

Qualitative research is unique because it produces responses that cannot be replicated. Their subjective nature is both their greatest advantage and disadvantage as they provide insight into a person’s character. Yet, they can also lead to potentially misinterpreted answers, depending on who is analyzing the responses and the kind of language that was used.

When to use quantitative research methods for your survey

Quantitative research will comprise most of your survey, due to the benefits of being measurable and categorized for the sake of data collection. They also offer a wide range of question types that can be arranged accordingly, based on their suitability surrounding the question itself. These types of questions also involve less effort on the respondent’s behalf, which makes your survey easier and more accessible to people.

The topic of your survey will heavily dictate which form of research is most suitable for you. Surveys that veer towards subjective and opinion-based topics tend to benefit more from qualitative methods of research, as it allows people to express themselves freely and explain why they’re responding in a certain manner.

When to use quantitative research methods for your survey

Types of open text questions

Typically, open text questions can appear in one of the following formats:

  • A brief input field with limited space for text. This usually accompanies a list of possible answers, where respondents can fill in an additional answer that isn’t included on the list
  • Large text box for long-answer questions. Generally used for in-depth questions that require long responses.
  • Small text box for short-answer questions, usually have a text limit to condense the information provided

Placing open text questions at relevant points

When using open ended questions, be sure to input them at relevant points during the survey process. Many respondents may feel uneasy giving in-depth answers during the early stages of a survey, so it’s best to save them for a later section. Open ended questions can be used as a follow-up to a previous question, where you wish to learn why an individual gave a certain response. This should be used if you’re seeking certain answers that relate directly to the business goal.

How to analyze qualitative responses

When conducting qualitative research, you will need to analyze the results and come to a suitable conclusion based on what the respondent is saying. Understanding a respondent’s use of tone and language requires an interpretive approach to analyzing the data. This can be achieved by first outlining a descriptive note about what has been said, irrespective of why it was said, and then performing a deeper analysis to uncover the underlying meanings, implications and inferences behind that answer. This process should also involve removing any elements of an answer that aren’t relevant to the topic at hand.

By comparing your responses with each other, you will start to a form a bigger picture surrounding the thoughts and opinions of your respondents, which can then be categorized into various sub-sections.


By understanding how to effectively incorporate qualitative and quantitative methods into your research, you will be able to produce a survey that’s sympathetic towards your target audience and reduce the hassle of analyzing too many open ended responses.

Øyvind's avatar
Øyvind Forsbak
As CTO and co-founder of Orient Software, Øyvind Forsbak oversees all of our organization’s technical matters. Since Orient Software's founding in 2005, Øyvind has guided the company's choices of technology to become a world class developer in .NET and modern JavaScript frameworks.
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