Asking Questions


Asking Questions that Yield Powerful Information

by Richard A. Krueger

  • Use open-ended questions
    “What did you think of the program?”
    “Where do you get new information?”
    “What do you like best about the proposed program?”
    Be cautious of phrases such as “how satisfied” or “to what extent”
  • Avoid dichotomous questions
    These questions can be answered with a “yes” or “no”
  • Why? is rarely asked
    Instead ask about attributes and/or influences. Attributes are characteristics or features of the topic. Influences are things that prompt or cause action.
  • Use “think back” questions.
    Take people back to an experience and not forward to the future
  • Use different types of questions
    Identify potential questions
    Five Types of Questions

    1. Opening Question (round robin)
    2. Introductory Question
    3. Transition Questions
    4. Key Questions
    5. Ending Questions
  • Use questions that get participants involved
    Use reflection, examples, choices, rating scales, drawings, etc.
  • Focus the questions
    Sequence that goes from general to specific
  • Be cautious of serendipitous questions
    Save for the end of the discussion

Ending Questions

  • All things considered question
    This question asks participants to reflect on the entire discussion and then offer their positions or opinions on topics of central importance to the researchers.

    “Suppose that you had one minute to talk to the governor on merit pay, the topic of today’s discussion. What would you say?”
    “Of all the things we discussed, what to you is the most important?”

  • Summary question
    After the brief oral summary the question asked is:
    “Is this an adequate summary?”
  • Final question
    The moderator reviews the purpose of the study and then asks the participants:
    “Have we missed anything?”

Strategies for Focus Group Questions

  • Choose among alternatives
  • Make a list
  • Fill in the blank
  • Rate with blank card
  • Semantic differential
  • Projection, fantasy and daydreams
  • Draw a picture
  • Develop a campaign
  • Role playing
  • Questions that foster ownership
    What can you do…?

Generic Questions

Example #1

  1. How have you been involved in _____?
  2. Think back over all the years that you’ve participated and tell us your fondest memory. (The most enjoyable memory.)
  3. Think back over the past year of the things that (name of organization) did. What went particularly well?
  4. What needs improvement?
  5. If you were inviting a friend to participate in (name of organization), what would you say in the invitation?
  6. Suppose that you were in charge and could make one change that would make the program better. What would you do?
  7. What can each one of us do to make the program better?

Example #2

Here is a sample set of questions that could be used for many consumer products. Modify and adjust the questions as needed. The questions might be /applicable to such categories as: soap, breakfast cereal, fast food restaurants, automobiles, golf clubs, fishing equipment, cosmetics, deodorant or a variety of other products. These questions could be used for practice focus groups to allow moderators a chance to lead the discussion, for assistants to take field notes and provide oral summaries. You may want to have five to seven people in each focus group and then sitting slightly back from the table could be a number of assistant moderators.

  • How and when do you use XXXX?
  • Tell me about positive experiences you’ve had with XXXX?
  • Tell me about disappointments you’ve had with XXXX?
  • Who or what influences your decision to purchase a particular type of XXXX?
  • When you decide to purchase XXXX, what do you look for? Take a piece of paper and jot down three things that are important to you when you purchase XXXX?
  • Let’s list these on the flip chart. If you had to pick only one factor that was most important to you, what would it be? You can pick something that you mentioned or something that was said by others.
  • Have you ever changed brands or types of XXXX? What brought about the change?
  • Of all the things we’ve talked about, what is most important to you?


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