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Closed Ended Question

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Closed-Ended Questions, also referred to as dichotomous or saturated type questions, are questions that can be definitively answered by a “yes” or “no” response. They are the opposite of Open-Ended Questions.



Examples of closed-ended questions include:

Can you give me more information?

Do you have a citation?

Can you give me an example?

Have you searched elsewhere?

Would you tell me more about your topic?



Richardson (no date) notes that closed-ended questions are beneficial in that they are “quick and require little time investment,” yet are disadvantageous because they “require more time with inarticulate users, can be leading and hence irritating or even threatening to the user, can result in misleading assumptions/conclusions about the user’s information need; discourage disclosure.” Closed-ended questions, then, are best used in clarifying and verifying that a patron’s needs have been met; it is an effective means of ending a reference interview, for example: “Have I answered your question?” or “May I help you with anything else?”


While the closed-ended question is not the preferable mode of beginning a reference transaction, it is an effective mode of controlling the scope of an answer. Waddington (2006) writes in the Encyclopedia of Education Technology notes that the closed-ended question is an effective tool for researchers when generating a survey and for “collecting rank ordered data; when all response choices are known.” According to Waddington’s (2006) entry there are five styles of closed-ended questions: the Likert-scale (where responses are measure on a scale; i.e. strongly disagree-strongly agree); multiple-choice questions (where respondents choose one answer from a group of possible options); ordinal questions (where questions are ranked in order; i.e. most likely – least likely); categorical questions (possible answers are in categories and the respondent must identify or belong to a category); and numerical questions (the answer is a number).


Significant research has been preformed regarding the reference interview and the process of answering reference questions. Notable sources for further inquiry include:


Dervin, B. and P. Dewdney (1986). Neutral questioning: A new approach to the reference interview. RQ, 25, 506-513.


Dewdney, P., Nilsen, K., & Ross, C. (2002). Conducting the Reference Interview. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.


King, Geraldine B. "The Reference Interview: Open and Closed Questions." RQ 12 (Winter 1972): 157-160.


Jahoda, Gerald. (1989) "Rules for Performing Steps in the Reference Process." Reference Librarian 25/26: 557-567.


Jennerich, E. Z. and E. Jennerich (1997). The Reference Interview as a Creative Art. 2nd ed. Libraries Unlimited, Englewood, CO.


Shannon M. O'Neill





Richardson, Dr. John V. (no date). Open versus Closed Ended Questions In the Reference Environment. Accessed 12 Nov 2006, from http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/jrichardson/dis220/openclosed.htm


Waddington, Heather (2006). Encyclopedia of Educational Technology – Types of Survey Questions. Accessed 15 Nov 2006, from http://coe.sdsu.edu/eet/Articles/surveyquest/index.htm

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