Questionnaires typically include mainly or solely ‘closed’ response items. ‘Closed’ items limit the responses that a participant can provide. Examples of closed items include the Likert (i.e. 1-5) scale, ‘agree/disagree’ items, or items which give the respondent a selection of statements which best reflects their view, as in the example below (taken from the Educational Self-Efficacy Scale):

closed 5 point scale

The data gathered from 'closed' items can be subject to descriptive and inferential statistical analysis.


Open-ended items allow your participants to express and elaborate on their perceptions and attitudes regarding the topic you want to evaluate. Several questionnaires benefit greatly by incorporating a small number (typically 1-3) of ‘open-ended’ items in addition to the main scale of ‘closed’ items. Below, we provide some examples of the kind of ‘open-ended’ items used to augment an otherwise ‘closed’ questionnaire, and we highlight the kind of phrases to use in open-ended items:

  1. Can you explain ways in which the course helped you to improve your confidence?
  2. How has the course helped to prepare you for your future?

Some questionnaires use exclusively open-ended items. For example, some studies (Kieser, Dall'Alba, & Livingstone, 2009) looking to research/evaluate/promote professional identity development have been based solely on participants’ open-ended responses to the following two items:

  1. Give an example of a concrete situation which shows what you think is central to the work of a [medical doctor].
  2. Give an example of a concrete situation in a [medical doctor’s] daily work that you think can be difficult to deal with.

Another recently-developed instrument (Ahn, 2017) takes this even further by using the following single open-ended item to evaluate students’ sense of belonging:

  1. Write down up to 10 words that come to mind when you think about belonging to your [university/college/department].  

Open-ended items/questionnaires can be subject to both quantitative and qualitative analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006).


Ahn, M. Y. (2017). Sense of Belonging as an Indicator for Social Capital: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Students’Sense ofBelonging to University. Prifysgol Bangor University.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

Kieser, J. A., Dall'Alba, G., & Livingstone, V. (2009). Impact of curriculum on understanding of professional practice: a longitudinal study of students commencing dental education. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 14, 303-314. doi:10.1007/s10459-008-9114-6