Asking Open Questions Leads to Better Insights

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As a journalist, I learned the importance of asking the right questions. My time with the interviewee was limited, and in that time, I needed to discover what happened, when, and why. However, my story would only be interesting if I also learned how the interviewee became involved, how he or she reacted, and how he or she felt throughout the experience.

Much of what I learned about asking questions as a journalist is transferable to conducting advertising research. As a journalist, I reframed questions to discover the most interesting aspects of a story. As advertising students, we learned we should reframe our questions to unearth consumers’ true thoughts and feelings about a product or brand, its purpose, and its competitors.

Through this exercise, I hope to write questions that will allow consumers to tell a story, relive an experience, or convey a feeling.

Reframed Questions Should Bring Out an Experience or Feeling

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“Have you ever sent a text message while driving?”

  • Tell me about a time you texted while driving.
  • How do you communicate with others while driving? Why?

“Would you say you travel abroad frequently?”

  • What is your opinion about traveling abroad?
  • Tell me about your most recent experiences traveling abroad. When and where did you go and what did you do?

“Do you post a lot of pictures on Instagram?”

  • When do you post pictures on Instagram and why?
  • What is your purpose behind posting pictures on Instagram?

“Do you prefer to shop at big boxes or locally owned stores?”

  • Where do you most of your clothing shopping? Grocery shopping? General shopping? Why?
  • What do you look for when choosing a store to visit? Why?
  • Tell me about your most recent shopping experience.

“How often do you eat sweets?”

  • When do you eat sweets and why?
  • What are you feeling when you want to eat sweets?

“Do you tend to buy things that are on sale?”

  • How do you factor in price when making a purchase?
  • When do you tend to make purchases, i.e. when the product is first introduced, after it’s been on the market for a period of time, when it goes on sale, etc.? Why?
  • Tell me about your most recent purchase of a non-essential item.

“Do you like to eat pumpernickel bread?”

  • What kind of bread do you like to eat? Why?
  • How do you feel about pumpernickel bread? Why?

Asking the Right Questions Brings Out the Most Significant Information

Asking the right questions opens up the conversation to new discoveries and insights. Open questions allow the question-answerer to respond with the information he or she believes to be important.

While a yes or no question may provide the exact information the asker was looking for, an open-ended question may bring to light information, stories, or feelings he or she had not considered. This information will likely be important in the eyes of the question-answerer, since he or she felt it was significant enough to discuss. Therefore, the information learned from open questions will allow advertisers to better meet the needs of consumers.

Open Questions Lead to Better Insights in Many Areas

The practice of asking open questions to discover better insights doesn’t apply to solely advertising research. In a post on Edutopia, a blog about education innovation, Rutgers’ Psychology Professor Maurice Elias wrote about asking open questions in the classroom to better engage students and create learning opportunities. He said open-ended questions “open up students to the largest possibilities for accommodation of their thinking and elaboration of their existing understanding.” By asking open questions in the classroom, the question-asker creates opportunities for the answerer to think critically about his or her experiences and convey the most important information.

This strategy applies to many question-asking situations. In most instances, an open question will lead to better insights than a closed question. Asking questions that allow the answerer to think critically and provide information significant to him or her will result in more beneficial responses for both the question-asker and consumers.