What Makes A Good Question?

Here at the Intellectual Roundtable, we’re all about asking a question. Three new questions each week, plus a podcast where talk about older questions.

Therefore we’ve had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time thinking of what to ask and how to ask it. With our archive of nearly 500 questions, inevitably some have been good but others may have missed the mark.

In your mind, what are the ingredients that go into making a good question? Is there a particular topic, or maybe a way of framing it?

Of course, there are plenty of other occasions for making queries than just a blog on the internet. How might that construction change if you are, say, talking to someone at a party (let’s pretend this party is of the virtual variety)? Or conducting an interview? Perhaps an icebreaker at a team-building event?

If you think about some of your Intellectual Roundtable favorites from over the years, what do they have in common? What makes a good question?

Related questions: What questions should we be asking? What is your favorite Intellectual Roundtable question? How are we doing?

3 thoughts on “What Makes A Good Question?”

  1. First off, a good question is one to which you actually want to know the answer(s). For instance, I’m not a fan of when people are asked, “How you doin’?” when the asker is not genuinely interested in finding out how someone is doing. Sure, it’s small talk — a social nicety. But the question can be painful to a person asked when they are in mental pain or searching for someone who wants to know how they are doing.

    Questions that get people to know one another better are super. That’s why, in groups, I love introductory questions. Previous Intellectual Roundtable questions like, “Cake or pie?” or “Crossword or jigsaw puzzle?” (as well as more in-depth questions for smaller groups) serve this purpose well.

    When about to jump into some lengthy conversations or problem-solving, questions that serve as ways to get the brain synapsis firing are great. “What are your initial thoughts and feelings about the topic we are about to jump into?” might be the right question.

    Finally, regarding good questions, I love introspective inquiries with thoughtful answers. “What advice would you give your past self?” “What are the best things that happened to you in 2020?” “When have you exceeded your expectations?” I love questions like these when people truly explore their thoughts and feelings and are willing to share.

  2. When Michael and I are proposing questions for this blog, there are several things that I look for that I think makes for a good questions:

    * A clear, understandable premise

    A question is no good if you need to explain it at length just to understand what the question is asking for. Shorter questions are better, in this regard (although we’ve had some longer questions ourselves over time).

    * A universal topic

    I think a question is good if just about anyone can relate to it. If you can find something that everyone does and somehow turn it into a question, then there is hope that it will resonate with a wide audience.

    * A change in perspective

    we don’t do this with every question, but I love it when we take some trait normally considered bad or harmful, and imagine when it might be good or beneficial (or vice versa). For example, consider the question, ‘What is the value of inefficiency?’

    * Questions that make you think

    I love it when someone can’t answer a question immediately, but has to spend some time thinking about it first. That’s probably not the best way to build an audience on the internet when that are an almost limitless number of alternative websites to visit. However, I think at the core, people like to think. It feels good. And so I hope that ultimately, visiting our blog is a pleasant experience.

    Moreover, I have noticed a that our questions generally fall into a few broad categories. We have definition questions (what is ‘something’?); favorite questions (what is your favorite ‘something?’); therapy questions; philosophy 101 questions; and so on.

    I tend to avoid simple yes or no questions. I think they can stifle debate, if the person answering simply says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response and doesn’t elaborate any further. That’s probably more true with in-person discussions than on this blog, although we don’t have too many of them here either.

  3. All of the questions presented make me think!
    Now I don’t always have enough time to answer them.
    I usually check out the answers of others.
    Simply said. I find the Roundtable interesting and stimulating.

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