What are the characteristics of good questions? (With tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Understanding the characteristics of good questions is valuable across every area and level of the workplace, no matter your field. Whether you're asking questions in interviews, team meetings or project or management work environments, asking the right type of questions can help you gain information for effective decisions and create high-quality work. In this article, we explain the value of good questions, examine the characteristics that produce the best responses and provide tips on how to ask these questions in the workplace.

Why are the characteristics of good questions important?

The characteristics of good questions are important in that they establish effective communication in the workplace. Questions are vital for communication as they signal the desire for more information, specificity and clarification on a discussion topic or project. Effective questions are a great way to avoid miscommunication, confusion and any ambiguities that could hinder efficiency and progress in the workplace.

For example, when interviewing for a new job, asking about opportunities for remote or flexible work could be very beneficial. Asking insightful questions highlights your ambitions and expectations and can ensure everyone is on the same page. Asking about a company's corporate social responsibility policy can also help you to identify whether the job is a good fit for you and can signal to the employer that you have a genuine interest in the ethos of the company.

Related: Values-based interview questions and sample answers

What makes a good question?

A good quality question depends on the context. This can range from a teacher asking a student a question to stimulate their learning, to a job candidate asking a potential employer a question to increase their understanding of an open position. No matter the context, there are some common characteristics of good questions that increase effective communication. These include:

Purpose

Purposeful questions can elicit useful information or move along the discussion. Questions with purpose are more likely to get successful responses. For example, if you were conducting qualitative marketing research for consumer products, it would be highly beneficial to your research to ask questions about which consumer products customers rely on most, so you can prioritise those which are most likely to generate profits.

Related: Q&A: interview questions and how to answer them

Insight and engagement

Insightful questions that seek to generate engagement can encourage responders to consider their answers to the topic more deeply and intensely. Effectively insightful questions usually revolve around how or why something works, leading the responders to think analytically and critically about their response. As a result, asking these questions can help you position yourself as a self-aware professional and improve how memorable you are to potential employers, thus significantly increasing your chances of getting the job role.

Related: A guide to 360 feedback (with example questions)

Clarity

Good questions have clarity, meaning that the recipient can understand them instantly. To formulate questions that nurture clarity, consider using language that your audience can understand. For example, when you're asking a less experienced coworker about a project update, being specific and using terminology that you know they understand can help them give you an informative answer.

An example of a question that lacks clarity is 'When do you finish your work?'. This question lacks clarity because the respondent may interpret it in multiple different ways. A clearer way of phrasing this would be, 'What are the daily start and end times for your position?'

Related: 7 Ways to Communicate Effectively at Work

Neutrality

Neutral questions are questions that are free of bias that the responder can answer without any guidance, which results in individually unique answers that showcase the responder's originality. Neutral questions increase the chances of producing honest answers that aren't influenced by what the asker wants to hear. Questions of this type actively seek the true opinion and thoughts of the responder, which is why it's especially important for interviewers and recruiters to learn how to formulate neutral questions for their interviewees.

Simplicity

A question that's simple in its form allows the responder to focus their answer on a specific topic, without rambling or providing excess or useless information. In many cases, a multifaceted, complex question can be overwhelming to ask and too demanding, which is why the simplification of a question can be beneficial, as it enables more effective communication. If you have a question that is necessarily complex, you can break it down into several simpler questions to achieve the most effective responses.

Relevance and timing

To develop good questions, it's necessary to make them relevant to the situation you're in. For example, when you're in a job interview, asking questions unrelated to the role you're interviewing for is irrelevant or even inappropriate. On the contrary, when you're starting a new project at work, it's appropriate to ask about similar projects that other team members have completed in the past because this information can help you assign tasks and prioritise work.

Related: 15 good interview questions to ask the interviewee

Concision

Similar to clarity, a concise question ensures understanding for both the asker and the respondent. Making sure that questions make sense is vital for producing effective answers of high quality. Keeping questions concise significantly improves clarification and makes it simpler to follow along if follow-up questions arise.

Related: What are closing questions in sales? (Plus examples)

Open-ended

Open-ended questions are good questions because they encourage more elaborate, specific and detailed answers from a respondent. Open-ended questions are great for kick-starting and stimulating discussions in groups. As such, they are especially useful in brainstorming situations.

Related: The differences between open-ended questions vs closed

6 types of questions you can ask

Asking relevant, appropriate questions is a basic ability that you can use to gain more insight into a situation. By gaining knowledge from other people's responses, you can also strengthen your skills. Here are some of the most common types of questions to consider when you're preparing for a meeting, interview or work-related gathering:

  1. Closed questions: Also known as the polar questions, by asking closed questions you expect a one-word answer, such as 'yes' or 'no'. Examples of closed questions are, 'Do you like your job?' or 'What's your name?'

  2. Open questions: Open questions, which are great for creative discussions, invite a longer answer and encourage the person you're talking with to elaborate on their answer. For example, an open question is 'Why have you decided to apply for this role?'

  3. Probing questions: Asking probing questions allows you to gain a deeper insight into something that your interlocutor is talking about, which is useful when you want to avoid misunderstandings in a discussion. A good example of a probing question is 'When have you done something like this before?'

  4. Leading questions: Leading questions typically allow you to subtly prompt your respondent towards a specific negative or positive response. These questions are great for building insightful discussions and examples include 'Did you enjoy working with your team?' or 'Are there any important issues you want to discuss?'

  5. Funnel questions: Funnel questions help narrow down a discussion to a specific point or vice versa. They can help you discover very specific information about someone or something.

  6. Rhetorical questions: Rhetorical questions are unique because they require no answer from the respondent, as they're statements that you can phrase as questions. They're great for persuading people or building engagement during a discussion.

Related: How to use funnel questions (with definition and tips)

Tips for devising and asking good questions

Learning how to ask good questions is an extremely valuable skill to have. As with most skills, they are always improvable. Here are some tips that you can use when coming up with good questions to ask:

  • Be positive: To avoid the responder critically interpreting your questions, it's necessary that you approach formulating them with a positive attitude. To make sure your colleague or employee is more receptive when answering, consider directly and verbally assuring them that you mean well, even when you ask more inquisitive questions.

  • Know your goal: Outlining what you want to know and how you want to gain this information is a great way of sticking to your goals and asking good questions. Ask good questions by knowing what you're asking for.

  • Use appropriate language: Using understandable, relevant terminology is important when asking good questions. For example, speaking to a colleague may include workspace jargon, whereas this may not be appropriate when speaking to someone outside of your field.

  • Ask open-ended questions: Open-ended questions prevent the discussion from being quickly shut down with 'yes' or 'no' answers. Give your respondent the chance to answer originally and creatively by asking open-ended questions.

  • Ask follow-up questions: Follow-up questions can be key to achieving and boosting clarification, as they're valuable for ensuring you gain as much important information as possible. They are also a great way of achieving the desired result from the responder.

  • Develop questions with a focus: Keeping your questions focused means narrowing down the scope of your question to achieve a direct response to one topic. It's important to time-focused questions appropriately so that they are productive.

Related: 10 questions to ask university interviewers


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