Asking the Right Questions

Asking the Right Questions


After completing the activities of this learning  unit, you will be skilled in  writing various types of questions, reflecting on good information seeking skills and knowing why asking  the right questions matter in school, in the transition to college and in college and beyond.

Students who enter the college environment are often plagued with uncertainty as they are engaging in new activities, find new freedoms, make decisions about career paths, begin to separate from their parents, and adjusting to college life. One way in which students can cope with this uncertainty and adjustment is through information seeking, or question asking. While this skill is valuable for adjusting to a new environment and culture, it is also a skill that will help students in multiple contexts beyond college life.

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Dr. Brandi Frisby, University of KentuckyDr. Anthony Limperos, University of KentuckyThis exercise was developed by Drs. Brandi Frisby and Anthony Limperos.  They are faculty members in the Department of Communication, University of Kentucky's College of Communication and Information

A similar kind of activity has been used as an opening exercise in CIS110 Composition and Communications,  a required course in the University's general education program, UK Core. Within this requirement, students are expected to demonstrate competent written, oral, and visual communication skills both as producers and consumers of information.



Introduction: why asking the right questions can make a difference in student success.

KnowHow2Go.org New to Campus Tour

Imagine these situations of a college student new to campus

  • You are unclear on a requirement for an assignment. 
    Students need to ask clarifying questions to ensure academic success.

  • You are interested in registering for classes, changing majors, studying abroad, or an internship with a local business.
    If students don't ask the right questions, they may delay graduation or experience other difficulties.
  • You are confused about where to go for help with studying chemistry.
    Asking questions to get the right help is important to enhance academic success.
  • You are asked to conduct interviews with faculty members or community members for a classroom assignment.
    Good skills in how to ask questions will be critical to succeeding in these types of assignments.
  • You have a job interview and fail to ask the right questions about pay, benefits, vacation time or job security.
    Your potential career is on the line if you don't know how to present yourself as a thoughtful professional who cares about where he or she works and what is expected of them.


Source: Image from KnowHow2Go.org Virtual Campus Tour, http://knowhow2go.org/campustour

The Importance of Asking the Right Questions

Paul Bennett, "The importance of asking the right questions"


Using one of the scenarios above or one from your own life experience, download and complete the chart below to practice writing simple and more complex, thought provoking questions.

Full Screen


There are four basic types of general questions:

  1. direct (e.g., Tom, how did that mouse get into the covered dish?)
  2. indirect (e.g., I wonder why that door is rarely locked?)
  3. open (e.g., What was the condition of the shipment when it arrived?)
  4. closed (e.g., Do you want lemonade or water?)

Four Basic Types of Questions

There are many different specific types of questions that are variations of these four basic types. 


Questioning that works - getting good responses

Questions can be neutral, leading, primary and secondary\probing (define).

- responses are different depending on the type of question. Depth of response will depend on the level of question from simple to complex. (tie to chart)

- reflecting and seeking feedback form others helps makes you a better question developer and a more effective information seeker.


Use the videos below to identify

(a) examples of different kinds of questions, and

(b) different levels of questions.

What are your overall  thoughts on the responses solicited from the interview?

Questions a Prospective Student Might Ask of a Student at Pomona College

This video is one of a series called "The Right Questions" by Pomona College. The Admissions staff at Pomona encourage students to ask the right questions—and getting answers from people who know: current Pomona students.

Source: "The Right Questions Part 4 - Michael Maltese." (2012). Pomona College. http://vimeo.com/40969818

Questions between a nurse and a consumer of mental health services

This a an example of flawed communication between a nurse and a consumer of mental health services. It was made for a class on Therapeutic Communication to discuss best practices in questioning and active listening techniques.

Source: "Bad example of Communication," http://youtu.be/ZarN-cEkrRs.

Additional Resources

Warren Berger, "Big Innovations Question the Status Quo. How Do You Ask the Right Questions?" Fast Company. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663429/big-innovations-question-the-status-quo-how-do-you-ask-the-right-questions.

Gary B. Cohen, "Leadership: How to Ask the Right Questions," BloombergBusiness.  http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/sep2009/ca20090929_639660.htm

"Questioning Skills," Exforsys Inc. http://www.exforsys.com/career-center/questioning-skills.html

"Interpersonal Communication Skills Test," Cyberia Shrink, Queendom.com. http://www.merlot.org/merlot/viewMaterial.htm?id=87772

Michael Brown and Mike Ponting, "The Questioning Game," http://youtu.be/cAy-LP1gFzI

Tom Searcy, "Problem-Solving Trick: Ask the Right Question," Inc. http://www.inc.com/tom-searcy/problem-solving-trick-ask-the-right-question.html.