“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
Albert Einstein, physicist, 1879-1955
I have serious doubts about Einstein’s not having special talent, but I do believe the second sentence and try to apply passionate curiosity to all facets of my life. I have been especially thinking about curiosity recently after publishing a 3-page article in the AMWA Journal (V3 N2, 2015) titled “Developing Better Discovery Skills.” In it, I list types of questions that are useful.
In this blog post, I’ll write about closed-ended questions and open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions usually elicit a “yes” or “no” answer or specific, verifiable data. These produce valuable answers, but they allow the person whom you are questioning to provide only the specific answer; if you want more information on that topic, you’ll have to continue questioning them. Examples of closed-ended questions include:
- What format (software) do you need?
- What is the word limit? Page limit?
- How many citations do you need me to edit?
- How will I return my document to you?
- What style guide should I adhere to?
- What is the deadline? Can that be extended?
Open-ended questions stimulate thought and encourage continued conversation. These cannot be answered in few words or with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Examples of open-ended question include:
- How did we get to this point? What led up to this?
- Why is it important to get this information out to our people?
- What are the risks of not sending this information?
- How will you come to the decision of what to include in this article?
- Describe the audience, specifically their demographics.
- What might be the biggest challenges in getting approval for this article?
To accomplish discovery as quickly as possible, it’s important to ask both open- and closed-ended questions in every situation. Before you face a client or attend a meeting, brainstorm all sorts of questions (if you know a 2-year-old, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Even if you don’t get to ask all of them, you’ll have plenty to fall back on.
I brainstorm questions when I’m walking the dog (I wish I could remember to take my phone or something to write with—I do my best brainstorming out in fresh air!).