Open versus Closed Ended Questions

Prepared by Dr. John V. Richardson Jr.

UCLA Professor of Information Studies



1. Open-ended questions are those questions that will solicit additional information from the inquirer.  Sometimes called infinite response or unsaturated type questions.  Note that neutral questions are merely a subset of open questions, according to Dervin and Dewdney. Examples:
    1. How may I help you?
    2. Where have you looked already?
    3. What aspect are you looking for?
    4. What kind of information are you looking for?
    5. What would you like to know about [topic]?
    6. When you say [topic], what do you mean?
    7. What do you mean by [topic]?
    8. What further clues can you give me?
    9. What examples can you give me?
    10. What is it you want to know about?
    11. How will you use this information?
    1. How will this information help you?
    2. What will it help you do?
    1. Where did you read or hear about [topic]?
    1. Tell me how this problem arose.
    2. What happened that got you stopped?
    3. What are you trying to understand?


2. Closed ended questions are those questions, which can be answered finitely by either “yes” or “no.”  Also known as saturated type questions. Examples:

a.     Can I help you?

b.     May I help you?

c.      Can you give me more information?

d.     Can you describe the kind of information you want?

e.     Can you give me an example?

f.      Could you be more specific?

g.     Are you looking for [topic]?

h.     Would you tell me more about [topic]?

i.       Would you explain [topic]?

j.       Is there something specific about [topic], you are looking for?




Created: 7/5/2002; SOURCE:  Based in part on reclassifying some examples from Jennerich and Jennerich (1987), p. 14; Ohio Reference Excellence (2000), p. 8; and Dervin and Dewdney (1986), p. 509.