Asking Good Questions During Q&A

This summer, I am teaching an undergraduate survey of church history to a small group of students here at Southwestern’s Houston campus. Since it is a small group, the course can take more of a seminar format than if a large group of students were involved. We’ll have a great deal of discussion, writing, and presentation and it should be a great course.

There are a lot of great resources on critical thinking (see here and here for a couple of examples). I put together a little resource for my students that provides some general criteria for asking good questions. Since the students will be graded on the quality of their questions during the course, it seemed fitting to give something of a rubric for them so they’ll know what I’m looking for as they frame questions. I hope this set of criteria for good questions–as well as bad questions–is helpful as a general tool.

Asking good questions is the outward demonstration of critical thinking. A good question asked of a presenter reflects engagement with the material, the speaker, as well as broader issues that set the context for the presentation.

Good questions do not merely seek more information on a particular issue. Good questions probe the information that is already given. They mean to test the soundness of premises and conclusions and the connections between statements. They seek to reveal assumptions in the mind of the presenter, which are hidden not only from the audience but sometimes even from the presenter. Good questions generate reflection on the part of everyone involved in the discussion, reflection that contributes meaningfully to understanding issues and ideas.

There is such a thing as a bad question. I will not insult your intelligence by suggesting that there are no bad questions. Here are some criteria for good questions and bad questions, and hopefully these criteria will help you make satisfying contributions to class discussions.

Good questions:

-Are relevant to the issues being discussed or presented.
-Have the issue itself as the point of reference; seek objectivity

-Are based on the premises and conclusions of the argument being presented
-Utilize the raw information from the issues to probe stated premises and conclusions
-Seek elaboration and justification for points presented
-Bring assumptions, which are unstated, into the open for scrutiny
-Provide greater understanding not only for the questioner, but also for the presenter and the audience as a whole
-Contribute to the flow of the overall discussion
-Stimulate thinking resulting in further questions
-Are gracious and charitable in spirit

Bad questions:

-Chase rabbits; are not relevant to the issues being discussed

-Have the questioner or the presenter as the point of reference; are subjective

-Are based on the conclusions of the questioner, rather than those of the presenter

-Have little relation to the raw information from the issues

-Take the premises and conclusion of the presented arguments for granted

-Are laden with assumptions and bias

-Contribute little to nothing to the understanding of the relevant issues for anyone other than the questioner

-Do not move the discussion into a profitable or an appropriate direction

-Begin and end with themselves; do not encourage deeper thinking or further questioning

-Are combative, ingratiating, arrogant, sarcastic, flattering, coy, or insolent in tone and spirit


2 responses to “Asking Good Questions During Q&A

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