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Asking “Good” Questions

Posted on April 16, 2012 by Riva Market Research Training Institute

Recently, I was reading Parade magazine – it comes with the Sunday Washington Post paper each week.  I always like reading about celebrities.  But this time, it became hard to concentrate on the article contents because the interview questions kept grabbing my attention.

Last year, in writing Secrets of a Master Moderator, I spent a lot of time writing a chapter about asking the right questions of respondents.    The impetus for that chapter grew out of noticing I had fallen into a trap over the years of asking questions that fell into these categories:

  1. POAIQ – Part Of the Answer In the Question “What makes you grocery shop after midnight – is it because they are restocking or because there are no crowds?”
  1. Leading Qs  – “Do you ever think about retiring” [could lead to a simple yes/no with no explanation- then requiring an additional probe to follow-up]

In the chart below is a list of ten questions that were included in the article – I could see the one asking the questions had a “strong point of view” or was looking for a specific answer.

I think these questions rob the reader of a deeper insight about the person being interviewed and make the interview more about the one asking the questions than the one answering the questions.  So, just for fun, I rewrote the ten questions – look over each pair and see if you think the revision provides an opportunity to glean more than “top of mind” answers.   Write your comments to, and let us know what you are thinking.



  • -Did anything change in your career when  you hit your forties?
  • What, if anything, changed in your career when you hit forty?
  • -Why isn’t JS writing the next Muppets Movie?
  • What are some reasons JS isn’t writing the next Muppets movie?
  • -Did the director watch the foreign version of GWTDT before directing the English version?
  • What can you tell me about the director’s decision to watch or not watch the foreign version of GWTDT?
  • -Is Nancy Grace still married?
  • What information is available on Nancy Grace’s marital status?
  • -Did Tom Hanks meet the queen when he was in England?
  • Where can I find out if Tom Hanks met the queen on his trip to England?
  • -Why did you start a foundation?
  • What led to the creation of a foundation in your name?
  • -Why did you wait 7 years to announce you had a medical condition?
  • Seven years elapsed between your diagnoses and your release of information about your medical condition – what were some reasons you waited?
  • -You seem happy.  Are you?
  • What can you tell me about your level of happiness these days?  
  • -Do I have to tip when restaurant service is poor?
  • What do you know about the rules on tipping when service at a restaurant is poor?
  • -Some people would be so devastated by the diagnose they’d contemplate suicide.  Did you ever?
  • When you were at a low point a few years back – what thoughts crossed your mind when things looked dark and dismal?

I find myself mentally rewriting questions I hear others asking out in the world.  One good thing about attending to questions around me is that it sharpens my listening ability, so I can hear a good question when it comes.

Further, by paying attention to poor questions and mentally re-writing them, I hone my ability to write “true” questions:  ones that are neutral, non-leading, and let the one answering say whatever they are willing to say without feeling wrong or grilled.

Next time you read or hear a celebrity interview, mentally revise the questions, so it gets the best data possible in your mind and use it as a way to continually strengthen your research question muscle.

By Naomi Henderson April 2012