15 Types of Questions (With Definitions and Examples)
By Jamie Birt
Updated June 22, 2022 | Published January 22, 2021
Updated June 22, 2022
Published January 22, 2021
Jamie Birt is a career coach with 5+ years of experience helping job seekers navigate the job search through one-to-one coaching, webinars and events. She’s motivated by the mission to help people find fulfillment and belonging in their careers.
An illustration of a person speaking while holding a book, perhaps for reference.
When you need certain facts, information or input, how you phrase your request often impacts the quality and type of response you receive. In the workplace, different situations may require you to utilize various techniques for asking questions in order to preserve relationships and communication. Learning about unique question types can help you determine which ones are appropriate for a specific workplace situation.
In this article, we discuss the importance of understanding question types and list types of questions with examples of each.
Why is asking the right type of questions important?
Asking the right types of questions at work 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. 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 directly impact the type of answer you receive.
Types of questions
Here are 15 types of questions with examples:
1. Closed questions
Closed questions have two possible answers depending on how you phrase it: “yes” or “no” or “true” or “false.” You can use closed questions to get direct information or to gauge someone’s knowledge on a topic.
For example, here are some closed questions:
Did you see Mark today?
What is the square root of four?
Do you want me to call that client?
2. Open questions
Open questions are the opposite of closed questions in that they facilitate lengthier, more thoughtful answers and discussions among groups. These questions don’t invite “yes” or “no” responses and instead encourage the listener to respond with detail.
Here are examples of open questions:
What is the best way to learn about cooking?
Why did you leave the meeting early?
What was your first work experience?
3. Funnel questions
Unlike other types, funnel questions are always a series of questions. Their sequence mimics a funnel structure in that they start broadly with open questions, then segue to closed questions. The sequence can also take the opposite form, such as starting narrowly with straightforward closed questions and broadening into subjective open questions.
Consider this sequence of example funnel questions:
Did you enjoy the presentation?
What did you like most about it?
What sorts of things would you have liked to add to the presentation?
4. Leading questions
Leading questions encourage the listener to provide a specific response. Often, speakers phrase these questions to encourage the listener to agree with them. It’s a good idea to use these questions sparsely, as others may view them as manipulative if you use them frequently or in the wrong context.
Some examples of leading questions are:
Don’t you think that sales call went well?
Wouldn’t you like it if you could guarantee automation for that process?
5. Recall and process questions
While these are two different types of questions, they both relate to gauging the listener’s knowledge. A recall question asks the listener to recall a specific fact, such as “What is the company’s mission statement?” A process question allows the speaker to evaluate the listener’s knowledge in more detail. “Why is the company’s mission statement effective?” is a process question.
6. Rhetorical questions
Rhetorical questions illustrate a point or focus attention on an idea or principle. Because speakers use rhetorical questions to persuade others, these questions typically don’t require a response. You’re less likely to use rhetorical questions in everyday conversations with colleagues, but you may use them in formal presentations, speeches or sales pitches.
Some examples of rhetorical questions are:
Wouldn’t it be great if you had one product that could organize all your digital tasks?
Who cares if the park closes?
Who will maintain the city’s infrastructure if the council cuts this budget?
7. Divergent questions
Divergent questions have no right or wrong answers but rather encourage open discussion. While they are similar to open questions, divergent questions differ in that they invite the listener to share an opinion, especially one that relates to future possibilities.
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?
8. Probing questions
Probing questions are follow-up responses to the listener’s answer to a previous question. Probing questions help speakers understand a listener'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, such as asking, "What do you mean by the term 'unfair'?"
Critical awareness questions: Critical awareness questions require listeners 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.
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?"
9. Evaluation questions
Teachers or supervisors use evaluation questions to help students or new employees to use their knowledge to make value judgments or anticipate future events or outcomes when leaders do not provide this information. These questions 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?
10. Inference questions
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 deduce that, because all the people you've hired who live within five miles of the company arrive to work on time, every person you hire within this boundary is likely to arrive to work on time. 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 that you assume to be true. For instance, if all successful managers are good leaders, and all good leaders have strong communication skills, deductive reasoning tells you that all successful 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, so what does 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?
11. Comparison questions
Comparison questions are higher-order questions that ask listeners to compare two things, such as objects, people, ideas, stories or theories. They require a thorough understanding of the learning material and the ability to identify and describe similarities and differences. Similar to other questions, you’re likely to use comparison questions in an education or training situation.
You could ask comparison 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?
12. Application questions
Application questions ask students or new employees to apply an idea or principle in a new context to demonstrate higher-level learning.
For example, you might ask questions like:
How did the person in the video use leadership skills to resolve that situation?
What factors might lead the company to open a new location?
13. Problem-solving questions
Problem-solving questions present students with a scenario or problem and require them to develop a solution. While these questions are common in job interviews, you can also utilize them in other workplace settings.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 the company’s social media page?
14. Affective questions
Affective questions seek to learn how others feel about the information they're learning. These responses can help the speaker affirm the listener’s feelings or clarify information.
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 one?
15. Structuring questions
Structuring questions ensure group members understand the information you are presenting to them. 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?
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