How To Ask Effective Questions

When we have a question, our first instinct is to go ask it right away to a friend, senior, or mentor. We don’t spend time to think by ourselves. But in this age of technology, we can find everything online. I am completely in support for asking questions, being curious and inquisitive. I have asked a lot of silly questions (and I still do). However, I also realize that most people who come and ask me questions could find better answers through their own research than from me.

Image result for ask right questions meme

Hence, I would suggest the following: When you have a question to ask,

1. First, ask yourself if that’s what you want to really know the answer to. More often than not, you need answer to a more important and specific question. Eg: Let’s say you want to know whether the Trump scenario in the US is affecting jobs for students. Is that really what you wanted to know? Or did you want the answer to the question, ‘Is the ruling on H1 visa by Trump in any way affecting the job scenario for students graduating from so and so major and by affecting I mean, is there a drop in the % of students who got job before vs after?’. Do you see the difference?


2. Second, go online and research once before asking. If you are reading this right now, it means you are among the 51% of the world population privileged enough to have access to internet, and all the resources present in it. Apart from the generic Google, Yahoo! and Bing, use the following search engines and forums for your question:

Ask questions, Find answers  – Powered by Amazon
Super User – May be a sister site of StackOverflow or StackExchange
Ask Questions and Get Answers for Free – Ask a question without registration
Ask Experts & Get Answers to Your Questions  – Ask Your Question, Get an Answer as soon as possible. A new question is answered every 9 seconds
Get answers to your health questions – Webmd will ready to answer any type of health related queries.
Ask | Hacker News – Get anything related to hacking
Page on – Any city related information
Ask Deb – Answers from real people | Ask Questions, Get Answers, Find Information – Every question deserves a great answer
post questions and answers, and discuss topics of interest.

Source: Answer by Kevin Max on Quora

And the best part is, there is even more out there! I’ve seen many instances when people ask questions which are already out there, a simple search away. Eg: What is the fee for GRE? What kind of jobs do you get after graduating from so and so University? Does so and so University accept TOEFL scores? When I’m asked such questions, I don’t have the ability to answer them without going online and searching myself. Objective questions like these do not require personal opinions and hence one can easily find their answers online. So, I strongly request that you do your best to find answers before going ahead to ask someone else.


3. Third, don’t ask questions which are broad and generic. The only question which Google or Yahoo or no search engine can answer are those which are not asked in a well-defined manner. Eg: Who is the best cricketer/footballer? This is an impossible question to answer without more context. What are the metrics? How do you define best? Or, to give a more relatable example, more than 30-40 students have asked questions that are related to GRE/TOEFL/MS Admissions which are too broad for me to give an effective answer. Eg: What is a good GRE score? Is US better than Canada? What is the best school for Engineering Management? How should I write my SOP?

Do you see the pattern here? Without defining the not-so-obvious terms used in these questions, it is impossible for someone to give you the answer you are hoping for. A better alternative would be: What was your GRE score when you applied for so and so University and what was the lowest score you know of? Is University A in US better than University B in Canada for Major C in terms of job opportunities and range of courses available? and so on.


Why is this important?

Image result for corporate world

When you enter the Corporate World, or talk to someone from there, you would see that things move fast. People are shouldered with a lot of projects, responsibilities and tasks, both inside and outside the office. We need to be respectful of their time – and this applies to just about everyone. There will be a threshold after which people will start noticing if you keep asking too many (ineffective) questions. While I am more than happy to help someone by answering their questions, I also don’t want to be a reason that they feel spoon-fed later on in their life.

Before sending a text message or having a call with someone to gain information, think twice or even thrice about whether 1. the question you’re asking is indeed what you want the answer to, 2. have you already searched online to find more details and 3. is this question relevant to the person I’m about to ask to and is this specific enough to their expertise that they can give an answer which is unsubstituted from pure research?

If yes, then go ahead! 🙂




8 thoughts on “How To Ask Effective Questions

Add yours

  1. If you’ve seen “I, Robot”, the hologram of Dr. Lanning doesn’t terminate until you’ve asked the right question. 😁

    Keeping the pop-culture reference aside, this is very important as in any business situation, it’s important to ask the right questions in a precise and crisp manner, because time is severely limited, and asking redundant questions would only serve to increase chances of not being answered!!

    Unorthodox article from your side, tbh, but I have to admit, it is extremely relevant, and I’m glad someone actually put this in words. 😊

    Important methods can’t remain tacit forever, wouldn’t you agree? 😀

  2. There are times when googling a reasonably meaningful question might not help, quite simply because the question might require some analysis and creativity to answer. In such cases, it is helpful to someone writing an answer, if the the person asking the question includes relevant snippets of their own attempts at answering the question. Providing some context also helps. The stack exchange and stack overflow guidelines are quite useful in framing good questions:

    1. I’m so glad you brought this up! I am in complete agreement. I would prefer anything over a broad and generic question with no context and especially one where I have no area of expertise.

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