Asking questions is a simple task, but it can also have major implications. When you need certain facts, information or input, how you request them shapes the length, detail and adequacy of responses you'll receive. Knowing how to ask the right kind of questions can enhance your ability to communicate effectively and efficiently. In this article, we discuss why types of questions are important and list types of questions with examples of each.
Why is asking the right type of questions important?
Asking the right types of questions is important because doing so can help you gather the information most relevant and useful to you. Your goals for communicating with colleagues, managers or trainees should help determine what types of questions to pose. You may simply need a single, brief answer without discussion, in which case you would employ a basic closed question. Other times, you may want to talk through a scenario, evaluate how well a group is learning new material or solicit feedback. The types of questions you ask will directly impact the type of answer you receive.
Types of questions
Here are several different types of questions with examples:
Closed questions encompass all questions with one or more right answers and wrong answers. They are often designed to check knowledge retention or focus learners onto a specific point. Closed questions include yes or no questions and true or false questions.
For example, here are some closed questions:
- Did you see Mark today?
- When is your birthday?
- Do you like ice cream?
Open questions are the opposite of closed questions in that they are designed to facilitate lengthier, more thoughtful answers and discussions among groups.
Here are examples of open questions:
- What is the best way to learn about cooking?
- Why did you leave the party early?
- What is your earliest memory?
Factual questions are closed questions that check a learner's ability to recite facts. There are several ways to use factual questions.
Here are some examples of how to use factual questions:
- Simple recall: Simple recall requires students to recall facts they've memorized. For instance, you may ask your team, "How many stores does our company have nationwide?"
- Organization: Organizational questions ask the student or group member to put answer elements in a logical order, such as chronologically or greatest to least. For example, you might ask, "What are our company's three main initiatives this year, in order of importance?"
Rhetorical questions are used to illustrate a point or focus attention on an idea or principle and do not require a response.
Some examples of rhetorical questions are:
- Have you ever wondered why the grass is green?
- Who cares if the park closes?
- Can you believe Samantha said that?
Convergent questions test knowledge retention by requiring a single correct answer or a narrow range of acceptable answers. They often start with who, what, where and when.
Here are some examples of convergent questions:
- Where are our company headquarters?
- When should you file your tax return?
- Can you name one of our chief officers?
Divergent questions have no right or wrong answers but rather encourage open discussion. They are designed for learners to evaluate and analyze information in order to formulate their opinion.
Consider the following divergent questions:
- How might you improve our current onboarding process?
- What do you think would happen if we increased productivity quotas by 10%?
- Why don't managers encourage employees to use their vacation days since it's proven to benefit the company?
Probing questions are follow-up responses to a student's answer. This is another general question type that encompasses more specific categories. Probing questions help leaders understand a student's perspective, decipher their meaning and encourage more in-depth reasoning. Probing questions include:
- Clarifying questions: Clarifying questions help teachers or leaders ensure group members understand the current material. They also help teachers understand what a student is trying to convey through a statement or question. For instance, a group leader may ask a member, "What do you mean by the term 'unfair'?"
- Critical awareness questions: Critical awareness questions require learners to understand and apply information analytically to reach a conclusion. For example, a teacher can ask, "What details do you have to support your answer?"
- Refocusing questions: Group leaders or managers may use refocusing questions to help members return to the point of the discussion if answers are becoming unrelated or incorrect. For instance, you could ask, "If that answer is true, how could it affect the future?"
- Prompting questions: Prompting refers to helping learners reach the right answer with additional clues or context. For instance, if a group member cannot answer your question about how many product lines your snack company produces, you might interject by asking how many pantry items you sell, followed by how many refrigerated items. These probing questions can help learners compile fragmented information into a single answer.
- Redirection questions: Teachers can involve more participants and help others think critically about information by allowing other group members to add to, object to or clarify another member's answer. For instance, if Sharon only remembers two of your company's five core values, you could redirect the discussion by saying something like, "Andrew, can you add to Sharon's answer?"
Evaluation questions require students to use their knowledge to make value judgments—like ranking or ordering—or anticipate future events or outcomes when leaders do not provide this information. They require information organization and analysis.
For example, you could ask questions such as:
- Using what you know about international trade agreements, which company that we've studied brokered the best deal and why?
- After reviewing company guidelines, which video showed the most appropriate way to handle the situation?
Inference questions require learners to use inductive or deductive reasoning to eliminate responses or critically assess a statement. Inductive reasoning is the process by which you arrive at a generalization using specific, known facts. For instance, you may decide that, because all the people you've hired who live within five miles of the company have been successful, every person you hire that lives within this boundary will be successful. You use what you know to make a broader statement that could be true based on the facts.
Deductive reasoning occurs when you make predictions based on generalizations assumed to be true. For instance, if all managers are good leaders, and all good leaders have strong communication skills, deductive reasoning tells you that all managers have strong communication skills.
Here are some examples of inference questions:
- Cindy and Bill are the highest-earning graphic designers at the company. They've both been at the company for at least five years. What might this indicate about the earning potential for graphic designers at the company?
- If you must request time off at least a month in advance, and you have not requested time off for your vacation scheduled in three weeks, what do you imagine the outcome will be?
Comparison questions are higher-order questions that ask learners to compare two things, such as objects, people, ideas, stories or theories. They require a thorough understanding of the material and the ability to identify and describe similarities and differences.
You could ask questions like:
- What are the major similarities between owning a franchise and owning an independent business?
- Can you compare and contrast standard costing and actual costing?
Application questions are designed for students to apply an idea or principle in a new context to demonstrate higher-level learning.
For example, you might ask questions like:
- How were strong leadership skills used to resolve the situation in the video?
- What factors might lead the company to open a new location?
Problem-solving questions present students with a scenario or problem and require them to develop a solution.
For example, you could pose the following questions to management trainees after discussing company policies and procedures:
- How would you diffuse tension between employees?
- What would you do if an irate customer called you?
- How would you write a response to a negative comment on social media?
Affective questions seek to learn how others feel about the information they're learning.
For instance, you may ask new employees questions like:
- How do you feel about your schedule?
- What are your initial reactions to our overtime policy?
- Is it important to you that we offer an hour lunch break versus a half-hour?
Structuring questions are designed to ensure group members understand the information being presented. They allow learners an opportunity to clarify material or ask follow-up questions.
For instance, after a presentation, you may ask the following questions:
- Does anyone have any questions?
- Was that section clear to everyone?
- Did that quote make sense to you?