As daunting a prospect as they are, open ended survey questions are most likely to provide you with the most feedback. It allows the respondent to provide potentially unexpected answers that you had not addressed in your closed questions.
Nevertheless, open ended survey questions are harder to analyze than closed questions, so you need to be ready and willing to take the time to properly and fully evaluate these answers.
But how do you fully evaluate open ended questions? To make things a little clearer and easier, take a look at the step by step guide below to get the most out of your unique answers?
Step 1) Read your responses
Reading your answers may sound obvious, but it is a vital step. If you have a lot of answers it can be tempting to scan over the responses and just look for keywords, but if you do this you will be missing out on a wealth of important and revealing data from your responses.
Spend some time to get to know your data and highlight any answers you believe are particularly interesting or poignant.
Step 2) Create Categories
Create categories to tag your answers with as you are reading through them. Every response you received should belong to at least one category. If you have responses that go under multiple categories, that is fine. There is even a term for this, which is called “multi-coding”.
An example of a category may be as simple as “liked the product”, “didn’t like the product” and “neither liked or disliked the product”.
Step 3) Drill Down Categories
After you have allocated all of your open question responses to a category, now is the time to look at each category group individually and establish some subcategories in each group.
For example, if you have the category “liked the product”, you may find within the group that there is the subcategory regarding the reasons they liked the product, such as “low cost”, “good quality” or “nice packaging”.
Step 4) Review Responses
Go back and re-read responses to make sure they properly fit in the categories and subcategories that you’ve assigned them to. Re-assign your responses to other categories/subcategories or additional categories/subcategories if you need to.
As you go along, you can also look for which categories and subcategories have the most responses. This will highlight the major themes of your responses.
For example, you may see that most of your responses can be found under the category of “didn’t like product” and the sub-category of “too expensive”. This will tell you that most of your respondents who gave answers to your open ended survey questions didn’t like your product because of the cost.
Step 5) Pull It Together
Now that you have your categories and themes sorted, you can start to pull together some conclusions from your open ended question responses.
If your open ended questions were related to a closed survey question in your survey (e.g. you may have included an “Other” option in a multiple choice question which was a free text field), take a look at how your open ended response themes and trends compare with your quantitative answers.