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Using broad questions in research

Last updated

7 February 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Broad questions provide more information than narrow ones, increasing interest and understanding. You can effectively use broad questions when you appreciate their advantages and disadvantages. 

Good research typically includes a combination of broad and narrow questions, as broad questions supplement narrow-question responses. They also provide a narrative for complex or misunderstood results. You can tailor broad questions to make them valuable and relevant to enhance your research methodologies and analyses.

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What are broad questions?

Broad questions are open-ended with no specific answer, encouraging opinion and discussion. While researchers often overlook the value of questions that lack quantitative qualities, widening the scope of a question is incredibly valuable. 

Using broad questions can help you form better hypotheses, analyze results, and form new questions. While broad questions have disadvantages, their advantages enhance research quality. 

Questions with a broad scope are a good starting point for research development. They uncover related topics and limitations that you can resolve ahead of time to prevent flaws in your study. You can also use broad questions during or after research to refocus or adjust your study goals. 

Broad versus narrow questions

Broad questions have no answer or many possible answers, while narrow questions have one or more specific answers. A narrow question satisfies most research goals, while a broad question cannot, but good research uses both.

The results of narrow questions are easy to analyze because the answers are limited. While broadening the scope of a question may result in unlimited responses, this provides explanations to broaden your understanding of a topic. 

Ultimately, limited questions are essential because they provide statistically relevant results. Broad questions provide valuable qualitative results about the how and why, but you cannot easily categorize them for analysis. Narrow questions zoom in on one aspect of a subject, while broad questions look at the bigger picture.

Advantages of broad questions

Researchers who appreciate the advantages of broad questions use them to enhance their work. 

Broad questions are valuable because they: 

  • Encourage curiosity

  • Provide details

  • Stimulate discussion

  • Generate new ideas

  • Challenge accepted beliefs 

The advantages of broad questions often form the basis for research design because they highlight relevant issues. They can be very informative to a researcher studying a new subject. 

Disadvantages of broad questions

Many broad questions lack purpose and can be counterproductive. Disadvantages of broad questions include them being:

  • Distracting

  • Time-consuming

  • Difficult to analyze

  • Prone to irrelevance

  • Unsuitable for large sample sizes

Broad questions can cost time and money if they aren't providing useful information. The successful creation of broad questions reduces their disadvantages. 

Why use broad questions?

Researchers use broad questions because they are limitless. The answers to broad questions can be complex, delving into opinions and ideas that take more work to articulate. 

You may use broad questions to stimulate discussion or debate. This can be helpful when a research topic lacks focus, or the most beneficial course of research is unclear. These questions also naturally lend to empathy and human connection. Understanding how a user feels towards a broader question can facilitate solutions and philosophies around them.

Researchers also use broad questions when predesigned research does not deliver results. Not every question is the right question. When researchers find themselves with results that don't make sense or aren't having an impact, broad questions provide new direction.

Finally, broad questions provide a way to better understand your subject. For example, customer insight is invaluable, but you may need elaborate answers and explanations to understand the results. Broad questions provide an ideal solution.  

Broad question challenges

The biggest broad questions challenge is efficiency. The information you gather from broad questions is qualitative data, packed full of opinions and attitudes that may or may not be useful. It takes a lot of time to sort through the details and find the relevant data. 

You can improve efficiency by creating superb broad questions. A broad question will deliver better responses when you fill it with detail. For example, one broad question may ask about school lunch programs. A better broad question focuses on the nutritional value of school lunches or whether or not they should be a public service.

While a broad question is open-ended, it should not promote irrelevant answers. It is a macro perspective that is as relevant as its micro details. A wider perspective allows researchers to see the bigger picture instead of becoming hyperfocused on the wrong details. 

Although broad questions are challenging to quantify, they direct research efforts and solidify your confidence in broader user thinking and philosophies within smaller qualitative studies.

Examples of broad questions

  • Dietary app: What are the main reasons you chose a vegan lifestyle?

  • eLearning platform: Why are you considering switching careers? 

  • SaaS company: What did you like best about our customer service? 

  • Child’s activity app: How would you encourage children to exercise more?

  • eCommerce app: How are eCommerce sites like Amazon changing local shopping?

Participants can’t answer broad questions with multiple choice or Likert scale rankings. They cannot answer with a yes or no. The answers to broad questions are detailed, thoughtful, and opinionated. This is both a strength and a weakness.

How to create effective broad questions

Creating broad questions can be more complex than creating narrow questions. Most of the difficulty lies in avoiding the common pitfalls of questions that are too broad or too narrow. 

Here are a few tips for creating effective broad questions: 

  • Ask questions that encourage thinking.

  • Don’t ask leading questions that lead a participant down a biased way of thinking.

  • Avoid jargon or figurative language unless your participant is familiar with the word.

  • Use concise language and avoid including your take.

  • Be sure the question centers around your research’s goal or product’s speculated utility.

  • Write the question so your participant cannot answer it with inarguable facts. 

  • Design the question for your audience. 

Broad questions vary in their focus, clarity, and complexity. Their structure depends on the purpose of the research questions and the audience you’re delivering them to. A compelling, high-quality broad question will deliver the information necessary to shape future questions and accomplish research goals. 

Understanding broad questions in research allow you to garner all of the advantages and avoid disadvantages. Researchers should use broad questions strategically to enhance research to save valuable time and resources. When you use broad questions appropriately, they’re a practical tool for better understanding all research results.

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