Skills-building area

Question asking

Types of question

In the New Arab Debates we mostly focus on challenging questions – using facts to ask tough, direct questions.

The challenge question

  • It is a question that challenges the person to answer for their record or actions.
  • It should be based on facts and research.
  • It is tough and direct.
  • These are the toughest questions for someone to answer. You are not allowing them to say whatever they want. You are demanding they answer a very specific question.
  • Much of the value of this type of questioning comes from laying evidence in front of an official and having him/her address it in public. Even if you don’t get an admission or confession, you have held the person to account. That’s the essential purpose of what we do!

Other types of question

The yes/ no question

  • This is a question that only requires a yes or no answer.
  • Lets look at an example: Did you order soldiers to fire on protestors?
  • Use this type of question carefully. Don’t ask a question that allows the person to answer yes or no unless you are looking for a yes/no answer!
  • This is best used when you want someone to admit to something – take responsibility for their actions.

The information question

  • This is a question you use to find out information on the topic. You may want someone to explain a point/ issue etc.

The follow up question

  • Ask another question if you don’t initially get your answer. Keep asking!
  • But know what you are going to ask.

How to structure a question

  • First decide your destination: Ask yourself what answer do I want? What am I trying to find out? What is my destination? Do I want the person to answer for his/her record/ statements etc.. Only when you know your destination, will you be able to construct your question.
  • Research: Know your subject. In most cases to ask a good question you need some background information on the topic. So, do some reading or find out more about the topic before you ask a question. And you don’t necessarily need to prepare your questions in advance… by knowing the issue you will also be able to listen to someone and know what you want to ask.. you will know if something they’re saying is wrong or needs clarification.
  • Facts: if you are challenging someone, make sure you have your facts right to get the maximum impact. It is easy for someone to say “that’s not right” and you won’t be able to counter that unless you know the facts.
  • Clear and concise: make sure your questions are short and clear. These type of questions often work best as it is obvious what you are trying to find out. If your question is long or has more than one question in it, then the person may answer the easiest part or easily dodge it.
  • Confidence: if you do all of those things, you should be confident in asking your question.

What not to do when asking a question

  • Avoid phrases like:
  • What do you think?
  • What do you have to say about that?
  • What’s your opinion on that?

These type of words give the person a “free ride” to say whatever they want and not answer your question. You are not being clear and direct.

  • Ask more than one question at a time. Why? Because you allow the person to avoid answering your toughest question. You are giving them a chance to ignore whatever they want and talk about anything. Pick your best question and ask that!
  • Be unclear. The person needs to understand what you are asking. That can include asking a long question when a shorter more direct one would work better.

Download a fact sheet about asking a good question

Video clip examples of:

(1) challenging questions – watch this selection of challenging questions and see if you think they are effective.

(2) using facts in questioning- here are some examples of using research, information and facts to ask questions.

Research tips

When carrying out research, we need to ensure our information is:

  • Accurate
  • Is relevant to the topic / subject
  • Is based on facts and reliable sources

Research information could include:

  • Statistics
  • Report findings (from respected organisations, think tanks, government bodies etc)
  • Official information
  • News reports/ articles
  • Opinion polls (to find out public perceptions/ attitudes to an issue)
  • Quotes from high-level people relevant t the topic.

The sources for information should be credible. They should come from:

  • Well-respected and trusted sources.
  • Objective sources.

Download a fact sheet about topic development