enquiries@rodlaird.co.uk »
Freephone 0800 612 0910
Freefax 0800 612 0920
Now taking bookings
Bookmark and Share

20 questioning techniques to help you find out from people what they really think and feel (25 Oct 18)

Secrets of asking open ended questions

An open question permits a wide range of responses and is likely to stimulate discussion, while a closed question leads to a limited range of answers and often permits a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

“What do you think of the caretaking service on your estate?” is an open question and should generate a lot of discussion and elicit many different views.

On the other hand, “Are you satisfied with the caretaking service on your estate?” is a closed question and is likely to get simple, brief replies.

Here are some more open questions and techniques that will encourage people to talk:  

"What do you think of the area?"

"Can you say a little more about that?"

"What did you think?"

"What did you feel about that?"

"When you say…..what exactly do you mean by that?"

"What are your thoughts on this?"

"What else?"

"Could you tell me more about that?"

"Why do you think that?"

‘What’ questions:
"What about this one?" "What else do you like?" "What else?" - are likely to produce more examples and more information

‘Why’ follow-ups
"Why do you say that?" " Why is that?" "Why?" -  are all useful for exploring what lies behind replies.

‘Tell me more’ type of follow-on invites respondents to keep talking on the topic in any way they choose and can produce a variety of additional feedback.

Simply echoing a key word or phrase that they have said, in a questioning tone.

Using a ‘third party’ approach

For example if you were conducting focus groups with teenagers on an anti-smoking initiative, you are likely to get richer information if you use questions like, “Why do teenagers smoke, do you think?” rather than, “Why do you smoke?”

Encouraging looks, gestures and noises can also be useful, but don’t overdo it!

If you want to widen the range of answers
You can say “some people say that…. What do you think”, but this should be used sparingly

If you are not quite sure of their meaning say “Could I just check?”

Using balanced questions
Try and use balanced questions when you can as they open up the discussion. Rather than asking, “What do you like about living in this area?” try a broader, more balanced approach: ‘Let’s think about what it’s like to live in this area, the advantages and disadvantages. So, firstly, what do you think is good about living here?” “And what’s bad?”

Summing up
Can also be used to get more information, but this should be used sparingly, and you must make sure it accurately reflects what they have said

Open ended questioning techniques are at the heart of good group facilitation skills as they emphasize participants’ experiences in their own words. To find out more why not run a course in house? Email me at rod@rodlaird.co.uk   




Why not join the discussion!

Or even better still offer your own advice and tell us about things that others can learn from.

We moderate comments lightly so bear with us and we'll get your thoughts listed as soon as we can.

You must be logged in to post comments.

Not registered yet? Simply fill in the box below.

Forgotten your password?

Like to have access to this and hundreds of other articles like it? Register now!

Just pop your details in the form below, and you'll have full access to our library as well as receiving the free articles you have requested.

Research and evaluation
Resident involvement
Community involvement
Patient involvement
Communications & marketing
Equality and diversity
Community safety
All of these
Your work email

Already subscribed? Want to manage your account? »

Log in


Register now to benefit from hundreds of free hints, tips, articles and interviews

Your email address:

Contact us»

Latest Twitter updates

Courses that might interest you:

An introduction to focus groups

Beyond the numbers; How to analyse qualitative data

How to facilitate groups effectively

Successful depth interviewing techniques

Why not try these articles? 

5 questions that will get you nowhere

20 questioning techniques to help you find out from people what they really think and feel

A step by step guide to conducting a depth interview

How to encourage people to express things in their own words

How to use body language to get quiet people talking

How you ask questions will determine the sort of information you get

MORE secrets of asking open ended questions

The quiet ones: simple ways to ensure they contribute, too

The big freeze: what to do when the group decides not to talk to you

The loudmouth problem: how to stop dominant people ruining your efforts

What to do with someone who looks bored during a focus group

What to do when people talk too much or too little

What to do when someone becomes upset and distressed during a focus group