Asking the Right Questions

While learning the answers to close-ended questions might be interesting, one can easily find those from a survey. To understand why a person feels, thinks or behaves a certain way, researchers must ask questions in qualitative methods of data collection that prompt storytelling.

Using open-ended, thought-provoking prompts encourage participants to reveal the underlying emotional or attitudinal drivers of behavior. This can help organizations design campaigns that will resonate with the audience.


Here are some examples of poorly worded questions and how you might improve them.

  • Have you ever sent a text message while driving?
    • Tell me about what you do when you’re driving.
    • Tell me about a time when you were driving and had to communicate with a friend or family member.
  • Would you say you travel abroad frequently?
    • Tell me about the last time you traveled abroad
    • Take us back to the last time you traveled abroad. Can you describe it?
  • Do you post a lot of pictures on Instagram?
    • You just came back from a fun social gathering with your friends and took a lot of pictures. What will you do with them?
    • How do you share your pictures with the world?
  • Do you prefer to shop at big boxes or locally owned stores?
    • Walk me through a typical shopping day.
    • What are some of your favorite stores to shop in – and why?
  • How often do you eat sweets?
    • Tell me about the last time you ate something sweet.
    • How do you balance being healthy and enjoying sweets?
  • Do you tend to buy things that are on sale?
    • How do you weigh price and brand name, or quality?
    • Walk me through how you decide whether to purchase a product.
  • Do you like to eat pumpernickel bread?
    • Tell me about a time you ate pumpernickel bread.
    • What first comes to mind when you hear “pumpernickel bread?”

Asking the right questions is crucial because it allows researchers to discover the true reasons for behaviors or attitudes. It also gives them opportunities to learn new, unexpected information or insights because it lets participants speak freely and express their streams of consciousness. By using open-ended questions, researchers approach the interview with an open mind without trying to fish for specific answers and allow participants to lead them to important discoveries.

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