Although there are numerous reasons for asking questions about the information we receive back (the answer) will depend very much on the type of questions we ask.

Questions, in their simplest form, can either be open or closed – this page covers both types but also details many other question types and when it may be appropriate to use them, in order to improve understanding.

Closed..

Closed questions invite a short focused answer- answers to closed questions can often (but not always) be either right or wrong.  Closed questions are usually easy to answer – as the choice of answer is limited – they can be effectively used early in conversations to encourage participation and can be very useful in fact-finding scenarios such as research.

Open…

By contrast, to closed, open questions allow for much longer responses and therefore potentially more creativity and information.   There are lots of different types of open; some are more closed than others!

Leading or ‘Loaded’

A leading question, usually subtly, points the respondent’s answer in a certain direction.

Recall and Process

Questions can also be categorized by whether they are ‘recall’ – requiring something to be remembered or recalled, or ‘process’ – requiring some deeper thought and/or analysis.

Rhetorical

Rhetorical questions are often humorous and don’t require an answer.

Funneling

We can use clever questioning to essentially funnel the respondent’s answers – that is asking a series of that become more (or less) restrictive at each step, starting with open and ending with closed questions or vice-versa.

Responses

As there is a myriad of types so there must also be a myriad of possible responses.  Theorists have tried to define the types of responses that people may have to questions, the main and most important ones are:

A direct and honest response – this is what the questioner would usually want to achieve from asking their question.

A lie – the respondent may lie in response to a question.  The questioner may be able to pick up on a lie based on the plausibility of the answer but also on the non-verbal communication that was used immediately before, during and after the answer is given.

Out of context – The respondent may say something that is totally unconnected or irrelevant to the query or attempt to change the topic.  It may be appropriate to reword a question in these cases.

Partially Answering – People can often be selective about which parts of query they wish to answer.

Avoiding the answer – Politicians are especially well known for this trait.  When asked a ‘difficult question’ which probably has an answer that would be negative to the politician or their political party, avoidance can be a useful tact.  Answering a question with a or trying to draw attention to some positive aspects of the topic are methods of avoidance.

Stalling – Although similar to avoid answering , stalling can be used when more time is needed to formulate an acceptable answer.  One way to do this is to answer the question with another question.

Distortion – People can give distorted answers to query based on their perceptions of social norms, stereotypes and other forms of bias.  Different from lying, respondents may not realize their answers are influenced by bias or they exaggerate in some way to come across as more ‘normal’ or successful.  People often exaggerate about their salaries. Refusal – The respondent may simply refuse to answer, either by remaining silent or by saying, ‘I am not answering’.

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