Friday, 18 April 2008

Types of Questions

Regardless of the occupation or personality of your characters, it is an advantage if you are aware of how to construct questions. Or, how your character should construct questions in order to ilicit the information they require. This doesn't just pertain to Detectives or Journalists (although I would argue many Jounalists could use a course in questioning techniques). It can be used by everyone and anyone to gain some information. Here's why:

Let's firstly look at types of questions:

Closed question. A closed question generally means an obstructive person or shy person will only provide a yes or no answer if given the choice. It is what it is - closed. It may be used effectively when leading someone to a point before reuqiring detail or when confirming detail. For example: Did you kill the maid? The answer can only be yes or no. There is no room for expansion because you haven't asked for expansion.

Open question. The best type of question to ask in order to get the other person talking and ideal as a first question to get the other person to explain their story. For example: Descibe in detail how you killed the maid. You see how there is no room for a simple yes or no answer.

Leading questions. Most favoured by Journalists. Personally, not my favourite because they lead a subject onto a topic that you want to hear about. Unlike probing (which I'll get to), these do not allow for a conversation to naturally, or skillfully, flow by letting the subject tell their story. Foe example: You said an email to the maid that you desired her; and it is apparent that this may be questionable intentions in the context of her murder - who do you think killed her?

Probing questions. As opposed to leading questions, their is no accusatory conotations regarding an incident. It's not going as far as a leading question. You get the subject on track and then follow up with an open question. For example: You said in an email to the maid that you desired her - what bearing do you think this has on the case?

Mirror questions. Simply put - you repeat the previous answer given and then ask another. This should not be overused because it is an obvious attempt at buying time to ask the next question. For example: Subject. I have no recollection of that night. Interviewer. So, you have no recollection of that night, why?

Multiple choice. Another one for the Journalists amongst us. No need to explain in detail here. The main problem is that you must know what choices are avialable. By that I mean if the reason for something happening is outside of the choices you are given, then you are showing your hand that you don't know. For example. Do you prefer killing with a knife or a gun?

That should jsut about cover off on the type of questions available for use. This information, coupled with questioning techniques that I will blog about another time, may help when considering how your characters will ask questions. Although the examples I provided are basic, I hope they put the type of questions in context.

Let me know if you have any questions or points on this post.



Anonymous said...

This is really a good topic to cover! Last semester I had to take a class that focused just on how to ask questions. The only question we were NOT allowed to ask was the closed question, which is a lot harder than it appears. We had to get sometimes uncomfortably close to a person with the questions we asked, and it was difficult most of the time. My first instinct was to ask a closed question and I would have to stop, do a mirror question, and then a probing question until I had the point nailed. It takes a LOT of practice to do it well.

I'm in the healthcare field, so this is yet another skill that would apply to your list of occupations. And you're right when you say they can be used by everyone--I think this list is invaluable to any writer, and especially in real life :)


JJ Cooper said...

Hi Elle,

Thanks for the comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the topic. I think it is an important topic to be aware of and can be very valuable in all types of occupations and situations. Sounds like that class you took had a good exercise in understanding just how difficult it can be at times.

I'm glad you enjoyed the list and stayed tuned for more tips along this line. Take care.


rosemerry said...

I found this post to be very informative. Since I have no real expertise in any particular area when I decide to start writing articles/NF I'll have to ask the real experts. I'll definitely be back to read this blog some more.

P.S. I really enjoy your 5 question interviews as well.

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JJ Cooper said...

Hi commoninterviewquestions,

Thank you for removing your post. Although, I would have been more than happy to debate the subject with you on interivewing questions and techniques. I did get to read your post before you removed it and obviously disagree with your assessment on common questions.

Please note that my posts are, predominately, aimed at writers. I'm more than happy to allow constructive comments from those who disagree though, and you'll note that I do not have the 'approval required' button for comments activated on my blog. That's not to say I won't delete spam.

Everyone deserves a voice and an opportunity to disagree. I encourage it. Please feel free to re-post with your reasonings why you disagree with my post and I'll do my best to provide a prompt response.

Thanks for visiting. Cheers,