What Makes a Good Question?

Given that I’m writing a “question blog,” I’ve dedicated quite a bit of thought to this question.

My nearly-4-year-old daughter has also spurred my thinking on this topic as well. For example,

”Daddy, are you making macaroni and cheese for supper?”

Helpful context: I am NOT making macaroni and cheese. It’s quite apparent that I’m preparing rice and beans. She’s watched and helped make both types of dishes – she knows the signs. However, I’m doing everything I can to avoid shutting down her curiosity with an over-corrective response.

”Sophia, think about your question.”

She examines the evidence.

”No. You’re making rice and beans.”

My suspicion is that she asked the original question because she was hoping, in her clever toddler brain, that Daddy could be swayed in his choice of dinner with a little suggestive line of questioning. It’s an angle that she is more than capable of using. There are times when she asked questions of this nature, where the answer is either contained within the question, or plainly accessible by turning up the steam in her miniature brain-pan dynamo.

As an adult, I’d be tempted to say that I rarely ask such inane questions. The truth is less favorable.

Thus I think the first criteria of asking a good question is that it shouldn’t be contained in the question itself. This requires reflecting before you ask the question.

The second criteria for a solid investigative question is that you not have the answer already in mind. You must learn to let go of the answer you expect. This requires you to be brave enough to ask what appear to be obvious questions, which can look similar to an inane questions. The key difference is whether the answer is contained in the question itself, if “yes” then it’s a poor question, if “no” then it’s probably worth considering.

There could be more criteria for asking good questions. If you have ideas, please add them in the comments.

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