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Saturday, April 11, 2009

How to Ask Question Intelligently

Just how do you ask a question that not only appears intelligent but also results in an answer that satisfies the knowledge you are seeking? Here are some tips for asking more open-minded and informed questions that will help not only you but others to comprehend information placed before you, as well as extracting more information useful to you.

1. Start with something simple. Asking something simple first lets the information provider know that you are about to state your opinion but that you fully realize that you do not comprehend the whole story and that you are hoping they can fill in some gaps. For example, "Have you heard about the latest modifications to the Farm Bill?"

2. Define exactly what it is you want to know. Before you pose a question, it is important to have a concept of what is unclear about the information in your head, otherwise you risk creating confusion and not getting an answer that satisfies what you seek to know.

* Don't ask: "Can you tell me more about droughts in the Southwest?"
* Ask: "I've heard people saying that recent droughts in the Southwest are due to global warming, but others say it's just part of a natural cycle. Which do you think it is?"

3. Never ask a question in an aggressive manner. This indicates that you are only asking the question to prove to the other person that you are right and they are wrong, meaning that you are argumentative and not open-minded. Ask because you are genuinely interested. Otherwise, you will receive a defensive and less than helpful response.

* Don't ask: "Isn't it true that more people would be well-fed if we ate grains directly rather than feeding it to animals and eating their meat?"
* Ask: "Many vegetarians argue that there'd be more food available if society didn't invest in meat production. The argument seems to make sense, but do you know of any arguments on the flip side?"

4. Lay your concepts or ideas and assumptions on the table. Take care to make sure that the other person is fully aware of exactly what your current thinking is and why you think it. You can do this by stating who you are and what field you are working in, studying or researching. You do not have to be studying a course - anything about which you are passionate and spend much time learning about is "study" or "research".

5. Ask politely and second-guess carefully. You are seeking information to fill a gap in your knowledge and here is the person who may have the answer, so be polite! If appropriate, if you do not really feel comfortable with the response or feel that it does not respond to what you have asked, proceed gently by asking how they know this information. Ask what the general trend is that would short cut a path to that knowledge, meaning that you are seeking the tools to answer the questions yourself from this point onwards.

6. Be gracious. If you find the information provider is beginning to feel uncomfortable and maybe out of their depth, do not press the issues. Unless you are questioning in a professional capacity as a journalist, Senator or a lawyer, it is rare that a public grilling amounts to any good under most situations. As a member of the public or a student in class, you are seeking information, not a roasting. Back down and thank them. Often there will be time afterwards to chase them up and discuss things privately. Even if you are trying to extract information in the public interest, intelligent questioning will gather much information towards a good campaign.



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