I spent time trying to learn the tricks of the trade in big volumes on examination and cross-examination. Nobody pointed out to me that whether in the court, or in real life, the principles of questioning were the same and it is better to learn the trade than to learn the tricks of the trade. If you knew the principles, picking up the techniques were easy. Just keeping on reading examples were not of much help since intuitive questions could come only from knowing the principles of questioning and not by trying to copy techniques. In this article, I have tried to sum up the most common types of questions and their uses in brief.
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A closed question is a question that is properly answered by either ''yes,'' or ''no.'' Sometimes, a question that can have a single possible answer is also a closed question.
Examples would be, ''Were you frightened?'' ''What is the name of your mother?''
Closed questions are good for
- Testing comprehension
- Building conclusions
- Setting the context
Open questions usually begin with ''what,'' ''why,'' or ''how.'' They usually seek knowledge, feelings, or opinion of the person answering the question.
Examples would be, ''Why do you think he was late?'' ''What was your relationship with John at the moment?''
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Open questions are used to:
- Put the other person at ease
- Find out more details of facts
- Finding the other person’s opinions and values
Leading questions contain the answer or cue the respondent to provide a certain expected answer. There are strict rules of procedure as to where and when leading questions may or may not be asked. Leading questions are usually closed questions but with a cue to the expected answer.
Leading questions are good for:
- Extracting the answer you want from the respondent
- Creating a conclusion
Probing questions include both open and closed questions but with a single purpose: get more detail and exact facts. Probing questions usually ask the respondent for accurate or exact data.
An example would be ''What do you mean by ''illegitimate?''
Probing questions are good for:
- Establishing points
- Gaining details
- Gaining clarification
- Building pressure on the respondent
- Compelling respondents to yield information they are trying to avoid
Of course, there are many more types of questions but most of them are combinations of these basic question types.
Just one thing before I end this article. Do not see questioning only as a courtroom skill, but also as a tool for social interaction. The right question can help you to learn, build relations, avoid misunderstandings, control situations, and motivate people. Questioning is an art, and when coupled with listening skills can make you more successful and a better social person.
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