Structured or Semi-Structured Questions: Which is Better?

Structured or Semi-Structured Questions: Which is Better?

Knowing the best approach to gather data can sometimes feel like a puzzle. One key consideration often involves choosing between structured or semi-structured questions. 

In structured questioning, respondents are given fixed options to choose from, making the results easier to quantify and compare. On the other hand, semi-structured questions, with their open-ended format, provide a window into the respondent’s thought process, fostering unique and insightful answers.

According to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, structured questions elicited responses from 73% of participants, with a consistency rate of 89% in their answers. Meanwhile, semi-structured questions saw a lower response rate at 67%, but a significantly higher depth of information was obtained.

So, which is better? Structured or semi-structured questions? It’s not a simple black-and-white answer. But with the help of this blog, you can understand what fits the bill.

What Are Structured Questions?

Creating an effective survey is an art in itself, and at the core of this process, structured questions play a significant role. 

To begin with, structured questions are predefined, close-ended questions that offer participants a specific set of response options. These could be in the form of 

  • “Yes” or “No”, a rating scale (for example, from 1 to 5), 
  • multiple-choice questions, or 
  • even a binary response format. 

Structured questions aim to standardize responses, enabling researchers to collate and analyze the data more efficiently.

Source: Vervoe

The Power of Structure

Now, you may wonder, “Why structured questions?”

 Well, structured questions are powerful because they provide data that’s easier to process, analyze, and interpret. They offer quantitative results which can be statistically examined to provide a snapshot of the audience’s views and opinions. This feature makes structured questions perfect for large-scale surveys where data needs to be standardized to reveal trends and patterns.

Moreover, structured questions save time both for the respondents and the researchers. Respondents can answer the survey faster as they only need to choose from the given options, and researchers can process the responses quicker as they come in a predefined, standardized format.

Getting The Most Out Of Structured Questions

Understanding the nature of structured questions is important, but knowing how to design them to get the most valuable data out of your survey is the real game. Here are some tips to help you master this art.

1. Be Clear and Concise: The wording of your questions should be simple and straightforward to ensure all respondents interpret the question similarly. Complex jargon or industry-specific terminology may confuse respondents, leading to inaccurate or skewed responses.

2. Avoid Leading Questions: It’s crucial to maintain neutrality in your questions to avoid biasing your respondents. Leading questions can make the respondent feel inclined to respond in a particular way, hampering the integrity of your data.

3. Use a Balanced Rating Scale: If you’re using a rating scale (like a Likert scale), ensure it’s balanced. A balanced scale has an equal number of positive and negative response options, providing a neutral option in the middle. This provides respondents with a fair range of choices.

4. Keep Response Options Mutually Exclusive and Exhaustive: When designing multiple-choice questions, the response options should cover all possible answers (exhaustive) and should not overlap (mutually exclusive). This reduces ambiguity and ensures every respondent can find an answer that suits them.

5. Maintain Consistency: Throughout your survey, ensure consistency in your scale directions and label definitions. Changes can cause confusion and errors in responses.


While structured questions have many benefits, knowing their limitations is essential too. 

  • The main disadvantage of structured questions is that they may not provide the in-depth, qualitative information that open-ended questions can offer. 
  • They limit the respondent’s ability to express their views beyond the options provided. Moreover, respondents can’t clarify or explain their choices, which might lead to missing out on important nuances.

However, a well-designed survey often uses a mix of both structured and unstructured questions to leverage the strengths of each type.

What Are Semi-Structured Questions?

Every successful endeavor begins with a question – What? Why? How? When it comes to understanding our customers, clients, and communities, surveys are the tool to decode these questions. Yet, the efficiency of a survey hinges on one crucial element: the type of questions used. 

Enter semi-structured questions! The midway point between the binary world of structured questions and the wild west of unstructured ones. These questions are dynamic, flexible and provide a well-rounded perspective, making them vital in gathering insightful data.

Semi-structured questions are combining the best of both worlds of structured and unstructured questions. They provide a framework for respondents to answer within but also allow them to express their unique thoughts and experiences.

How Semi-Structured Questions Enhance Surveys?

  1. A Balance of Quantitative and Qualitative Data: With semi-structured questions, you gather both quantitative and qualitative data. While the former is about numbers, percentages, and measurable data, the latter explores thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.

This mixed approach gives you comprehensive insights. The quantitative part allows for easy comparisons and trend identification, while the qualitative part illuminates the reasons behind the numbers, painting a fuller picture.

  1. Context and Depth: Context matters, especially when you want to understand human behavior, attitudes, or opinions. Semi-structured questions allow respondents to provide context, making the survey results more meaningful.

They also enable respondents to share their experiences in detail. This depth of responses brings valuable insights that can significantly impact decision-making.

  1. Flexibility: Semi-structured questions provide flexibility to both the surveyor and respondent. As a surveyor, you have the freedom to rephrase questions or probe deeper based on respondents’ answers. This can unearth valuable insights that might otherwise stay hidden.

As a respondent, the flexibility to articulate thoughts outside rigid answer choices gives a sense of freedom and engagement, encouraging richer responses.

  1. Discovering the Unexpected: Open-ended components of semi-structured questions provide room for surprises. You might stumble upon an insight that you hadn’t thought to look for, discover a problem you didn’t know existed, or identify an opportunity that was previously unnoticed.
TipsCreating semi-structured questions requires a delicate balance. They should be clear and focused, yet flexible and open-ended. Here are a few tips:
Each question should have one clear objective to avoid confusion.
Include a predefined answer part for measurable data and an open-ended part for qualitative insights.
Questions should be neutral and unbiased to maintain objectivity.
Consider this example: Instead of asking, “Did you enjoy our service?”, you could ask, “How would you rate our service on a scale of 1-5?” Followed by ” Could you share more about your experience with our service?”
This gives respondents a framework to respond within but also allows for their unique input.


Semi-structured questions have some limitations that can affect their usefulness in gathering information effectively. These limitations include:

  • Semi-structured questions might not lead to specific answers. Respondents might provide vague or incomplete information, making it harder to analyze and draw conclusions.
  • The interpretation of semi-structured questions can vary among respondents. This can lead to inconsistent and biased responses, as individuals might understand the questions differently.
  • These questions generate open-ended responses, analyzing the data can be time-consuming and complex. Researchers need to sift through a lot of text to identify trends and patterns.
  • Due to the diversity of answers, comparing responses across different respondents or groups can be challenging. This can hinder the ability to make accurate generalizations.
  • Semi-structured questions often yield qualitative data that is hard to quantify. This can be problematic if you’re looking for precise statistical measurements.
  • The way questions are phrased can unintentionally introduce bias into the responses. Researchers might influence participants’ answers without realizing it.
  • Responses from semi-structured questions can be rich and complex, making it difficult to create a standardized coding or categorization system for analysis.
  • Conducting interviews or collecting data through semi-structured questions requires time and resources. It might not be feasible for large-scale studies or when quick results are needed.
  • Crafting effective semi-structured questions requires skill and experience. Poorly designed questions can lead to confusing or unhelpful responses.
  • Some participants might not fully express their thoughts or may omit important details in their responses, leading to incomplete insights.

Summary of Structured or Semi-structured Questions

Here’s a table illustrating the differences:

Question TypeStructured QuestionsSemi-Structured Questions
PurposeGather specific, standardized information.Encourage more detailed and varied responses.
FormatLimited options, often multiple choice or true/false.Open-ended, allowing for diverse answers.
ExamplesWhat is your age group?Yes/No: Have you used this product before?Rate your satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 5.Can you describe your experience with the product?How do you feel about the recent changes?What challenges have you faced in your role?
Response LengthShort, concise answers.Longer, more detailed explanations.
Use CaseSurveys, data collection with specific metrics.Qualitative research, gathering insights and opinions.

The Takeaway

So between structured or semi-structured questions, which one is better? The choice depends on your objectives. Structured questions are your best bet if you’re after statistical consistency and comparability. But if you want to dig deeper, unearthing intricate details and individual perspectives.

Survey Point Team
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