In all aspects of life, people ask questions and get asked questions and there are a number of good reasons for this. However, it is the answers (the information that is given back) that determine the types of questions that people ask and get ask.

In general, questions – in the most elementary form you can find – are usually either of the closed or open type. As well as explaining what each of these types are, this guide also describes other types of questions and in what circumstances their use is appropriate – with a view to seeing how questions help us gain a better understanding of some situation or other.

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Closed Type Questions

Questions of the closed variety are designed to return short and highly focused answers. These types of questions are often (though not in every case) based on either wrong answers or right answers. Furthermore, they are not generally difficult to answer since the answer options are often limited. It is not unusual for closed questions to be used at the outset of conversations as a way of encouraging participation and they are deemed quite useful in scenarios that require the uncovering of factual information e.g. in various types of studies and research projects.

When questioners require a short answer – often comprised of one word only, they tend to find closed type questions suitable for this purpose.

  • Answers to questions of the closed variety can be just “Yes” or just “No.” Here are some examples: “Are you a smoker?“, “Have you fed the dog?“, “Can I buy you a coffee?
  • In another scenario these questions may require the respondent to choose an option from a number of possibilities. Examples might include “Should I offer a chicken, lamb, or vegan option for dinner today?” or “How did he travel here today – by car, bus, or train?
  • Additionally, closed typed questions may be used to find out some information or other, also with limited answer options. Here are some examples: “What age are you?“, “At what time will he arrive?“, “At which university were you educated?

Open Type Questions

Unlike questions of the closed variety, questions of the open type often allow for lengthier answers. Therefore, they provide more scope for creativity and for the returning of greater amounts of information. Open questions come in many different types with some surpassing others in terms of how open or closed they are!

Loaded or Leading Questions

Leading or loaded questions tend to guide the answer the respondent provides, often in a subtle manner, in a particular direction.

Suppose, for example, an employer asks one of their employees, “How do you like our company”s new data management system?” A question like this causes the respondent to think about how they like the system they have been asked about. Put in this non-overt way, it can raise the notion that perhaps they do not like it very much or like it at all.

If that same question were phrased as, “Tell the data director and myself what you like about the new data management system” it would be less loaded and not as leading in nature. Here, the respondent is not asked to judge the new system and, therefore, they need not imply there is something about it they do not like.

In particular, children can be susceptible to loaded questionsand they are very likely to base their answers on a lead provided by a parent or adult. For instance, a simple question such as “Did you enjoy your trip to the zoo?” can tend to guide the respondent into thinking about the things they enjoyed at the zoo. However, if you ask “How was your trip to the zoo?” the child is not being asked to judge whether their trip was bad or good and it is more probable they will give you an accurate and balanced answer. The remainder of your conversation with the child will possibly be shaped by their answer to the latter question and your subsequent question might be, “What things did you and Jack do at the zoo?” Then their answer is likely to be varied according to your first question to the child – enjoyable things or merely things.

Questions that Involve Recall or an Element of Process

It is also possible to categorize questions by a) recall, which requires the respondent to recall or remember something, or b) process, which requires the respondent to analyze or think more deeply about a question before answering it.

In its simplest form, a question of the recall variety might be, “What middle name does your father have?” This question involves recalling a fact or a detail from memory on the part of the respondent. In school environments, teachers are likely to ask recall types of questions, e.g., “Which ocean is the largest?” Questions of the process variety require the respondent to share their opinion or to analyze or think more deeply about an answer.

Questions of a Rhetorical Nature

You will often find that questions of the rhetorical type are of a humorous nature and answers are not always required.

Take this example: “If it is a person”s intention to fail and they actually succeed, can it be said they have succeeded or failed?”People often use these types of questions in presentation situations as a way of getting an audience thinking. Hence, it could be said that rhetorical type questions are designed to stimulate the thought process.

Rhetorical questions are frequently used by members of the clergy, lecturers, and politicians during addresses to large congregations or audiences as a way of keeping their attention. “Is there anyone who would not want to stay in good health as they age?” Questions like these do not require answers but such is the nature of the human brain that it is designed to consider the answers to such questions, thereby engaging people and keeping them tuned in to a speaker.

Questions Used for Funneling

Cleverly-worded questions are often used to funnel the answers given by respondents. Essentially, the technique involves asking a number of questions where each consecutive question becomes more restricted or less restricted, beginning with open-style questions and coming to an end with closed-style questions or the other way around.

It is also possible to use funneling in a way that is the reverse of the above, beginning with closed-type questions and moving systematically on to open-type questions. This technique is often used by interrogators and counsellors to extract as much information as they can, starting with open-type questions and moving to closed-type questions. By contrast, upon meeting new people, it is usual to begin by asking them closed-type questions and going on to more open-style questions as each party starts to relax. Please refer to our section on counselling to learn more about this and what counsellors do.

Response-Style Questions

Since there are so many questions and genres of questions it follows, there must be equally as many or more answers. Attempts have been made by several theorists to define or categorize all the types of answers that respondents give to different types of questions. Some of the main and more prominent groups are:

  • Lies: It is possible that respondents will give false answers to questions. It may be possible for the asker of the question to spot lies depending on how plausible the answer is but additionally on the (unspoken) communication style that immediately preceded the answer, followed it, or occurred during it.
  • Honest and direct answers: This reflects the type of response a question-asker might hope to get in response to question(s).
  • Partial answers: Some respondents are prone to being selective with regards to the questions or question parts they respond to or want to respond to.
  • Evasive responses (avoiding giving a direct answer): This ploy is well-known among certain groups of people, most notably among politicians. If they are asked a question they find “difficult” to answer i.e. an answer that may reflect negatively on the respondent or their party (in the case of politicians and the party they represent), avoiding the answer can seem the best policy. Techniques for avoiding to answer questions include answering questions with questions or attempting to bring attention to the positive rather than negative aspects of a subject.
  • Wrong context responses: In these cases, respondents are likely to give an answer that is in no way relevant or connected to the posed question or they may try and change the subject. In cases like these, the questioner may want to consider rewording their question(s).
  • Distorted responses: Depending on how they perceive stereotypes and societal norms or based on various biases they may have, it is not unusual for respondents to answer certain questions in a somewhat distorted manner. Distortion is different to lying, primarily because a respondent might not be aware that their responses are biased or they may distort a response in some way to portray themselves as more successful than they really are (e.g., exaggerating salary information) or because they think a particular response makes them “normal.”
  • Declining or refusing to respond: Some respondents might refuse to provide answers, e.g., by maintaining a silence or by stating that they are not prepared to answer.
  • Stalled responses: Stalling is very like avoiding giving a straight answer and it may apply where a respondent wants extra time to put together an answer they think is acceptable. One stalling technique is answering a question with a question.