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From: Footsteps 52

A variety of ideas to help improve the nutrition of young children

Photo: Isabel Carter

Photo: Isabel Carter

All of us use questions in our daily lives. Frequently the kind of questions we ask may make important differences to the information we can gather. Asking the wrong kind of questions will limit the information discovered.

There are several important types of question:

There is no one correct way of asking questions. It depends on the purpose of the interview. However, open, probing questions are usually needed to discover useful information. These often begin with one of the six ‘helpers’: What? When? Where? Who? Why? How?

An interviewing exercise

Divide people into groups of three and ask them to choose one to act as inter-viewer, one as informant and the other as an observer. Suggest some topics on which to ask questions. Here are some suggestions:

Allow each group ten minutes to try to discover as much as possible about their topic. Explain that good questioning is like peeling away the layers of an onion until the central core or reason is reached. Before starting, ask the group to suggest a few good probing questions. If they lack ideas, suggest a few such as ‘But why?’ ‘Please tell me more about that?’ or ‘Anything else?’

Allow each group to feed back their findings. Were leading questions used? What observations did each participant make? If two groups have taken the same topic, let one feed back after the other and compare their findings.

How easy did they find the interviewing? How well did they keep the interview going? What mistakes did people make?

Common mistakes

Participants may like to repeat the group exercise with a different topic to see if their interviewing skills have improved.

Adapted from ‘Improving listening and observation skills’ in A Trainer’s Guide for Participatory Learning and Action, 1995, by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). E-mail: Website:

Practical exercise

Use this exercise to discover the differences between various questions. First, decide what type of question each one below is. Discuss situations where this might be appropriate and when it might be inappropriate. Then suggest alternative ways of asking the same question.

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