Open-ended questions allow a person to answer in their own words. They can elaborate, and their response isn’t restricted to a set of pre-formed answers.

These are the questions that get down to the nitty-gritty. They explore where your customers’ thoughts lie about your product, your business, and their life in relation to your brand.

learn to use open-ended questions in your copywriting research to gain valuable voice of customer research with the Master of Message Finding copywriting course

What’s an open-ended question?

To get a better understanding of an open-ended question, it’s helpful to look at the two main types of questions you can ask.

The two types are closed-ended questions and open-ended questions.

Closed-ended questions are narrowly focused and give people a limited choice of answers. Common closed-ended questions include:

  • Yes or No questions
  • Multiple-choice questions with a set of options to select
  • On a scale of 1-10 questions

Any question that has a limited choice of answers is considered closed-ended.

On the other hand, open-ended questions are broad and allow people to answer in as many words as they see fit to describe their experience fully.

Writing the questions

To effectively write an open-ended question, you need to consider the main goal of the answers.

Are you looking to get statistical data or do you want to know how your customers think?

Closed-ended questions will allow you to collect data that can be measured quantitatively, while open-ended questions give qualitative insights into why customers buy.

Jen Havice, who literally wrote the book on this, says:

“The most helpful open-ended questions focus on determining the circumstances and behaviours around how your customers make decisions.

[They] make it easier for you to zero in on the actions your customers and prospects take when seeking solutions to their struggles.”

Jennifer Havice

When writing an open-ended question, consider starting with one of the 5-Ws: Who, what, when, where and why (I’d also add in, how).

These will give you an excellent base to continue your question.

What successes have you had after working with us?

How can we improve this service to make it more effective for you?

If you develop a list of questions that seem to be closed-ended, fear not, most questions can be turned into open-ended questions with a simple re-phrase.

In this example, a set of questions can be both closed-ended and open-ended, depending on how they’re worded.

Open-ended and closed-ended questions compared

Where do you use open-ended questions?

whats an open ended question? Learn how to use them to do your copywriting research and gain valuable voice of customer research with the Master of Message Finding copywriting course

Once you’ve got some questions to ask, the next logical step is figuring out where they’ll give you the best results.

You can use them in multiple places – don’t give yourself more work.

Only change the questions after you’ve experimented with them and find wording that will work better to get the answers you’re looking for.

Open-ended questions can be used anywhere you’re doing research or collecting data.

The first few items on that list I’m sure you’ve heard of – but you might be wondering how a Thank You page can be useful.

Joanna uses this question on pretty much every Thank You page Copyhackers has. It’s a good one. And it gets results.

Why are open-ended questions important for developing good conversion copy?

Jen says it’s because humans are notorious for doing one thing and saying another.

“Your interviewee may tell you they want to eat healthy meals made from scratch every night. But, ask them what they ate for dinner the previous week, and you may get an answer consisting of frozen pizzas and takeout.

Understanding what people want and how they feel about their choices only provides helpful information within the context of their actions.”

Jennifer Havice

Asking open-ended questions is important to uncover your customers’ true needs.

These questions are also strongly related to the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) theory, where customers “hire” your product to help them accomplish a specific task.

In this theory, using open-ended questions to focus on what was happening in your customers’ lives in the moments leading up to their decision gives greater insight into why they made that decision.

For example, Keurig conquered the market with their coffee machines – because they knew the real task people were trying to accomplish by boiling water was to make a hot drink.

The boiling of water was just a step in the process. This insight led them to create an all-in-one machine.

Keurig used open-ended questions to understood that the task that people were trying to accomplish by boiling water was making coffee.

They proved that they could solve the problem better and faster (less than a minute per cup!) than a coffee pot or kettle.

Now everyone has one.

What are the results of asking open-ended questions consistently?

Keurig keeps its brand at the forefront of the market by asking its customers’ opinions on everything.

They have a following of 8,000 Coffee Insiders who help shape the company’s decisions. From what ad copy to use to what machines they’ll produce next.

They collect insights about what their customers want – and give it to them.

You can learn how to do this too.

By understanding your customers’ behaviors and actions, your copy will address the deep-seated benefits that actually matter to them.

Therefore, you get higher conversions.

All because you know how your product fits into their lives.