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Want someone to open up? In this lesson, we will learn about probing questions and how they are used to elicit answers that are based on critical thinking and/or personal feelings.

What Are Probing Questions?

Are you going to need more information? Are you looking to find a deeper meaning? Perhaps asking a probing question will help you get to the bottom of things. Probing questions are not just about clarifying specific details; instead, these questions dig much deeper than the surface.

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An effective probing question helps to get a person to talk about their personal opinions and feelings, and promotes critical thinking.Probing questions are typically open-ended, meaning there is more than just one response. Most probing questions begin with ‘what,’ ‘why’ or ‘how.’ If you want the person you’re asking to expand on their response, the use of the word ‘exactly,’ or the phrase ‘can you explain further’ should get you there.

Probing Questions vs Clarifying Questions

It can be argued that a clarifying question is a type of probing question because the goals of the two questions are the same – to get more information. However, a clarifying question is looking for more facts, and the answers are typically brief.For example, let’s say my friend Pam traveled to Spain over the holidays, and I wanted to find out a little more about her trip.

These are types of clarifying questions:Q Where in Spain did you travel?A Madrid.Q Where did you stay in Madrid?A Puerta del Sol.Q How long did you stay?A One week.

As you can see, I’m getting more information about Pam’s trip, but the answers are factual, short and specific. Let’s say I want to find out some interesting details about her trip. In that case, I would ask a probing question. Note how with this question, Pam’s response requires her to give it some thought.

The reply is not merely fact-based but instead opinion-oriented.’If there is only one thing that I have to do when I visit Madrid, what do you think it should be?”That’s a tough question, so many great places in Madrid. I think you probably have to visit The Royal Palace.

The gardens there were absolutely beautiful. They also allow tourists in to see the throne room and the Royal Armoury. You wouldn’t believe how big the actual palace is; I think it has something like 3,000 rooms! And there is so much art and d;cor inside! I would go back to Madrid just to see the gardens at The Palace in the spring.’The probing question forced her to elicit opinionated detail about her favorite part of her trip. Her response provoked thought and the opportunity to elaborate.

Types of Probing Questions

There are a lot of different reasons why you would need more information. Here are a few different kinds of probing questions.

Clarification Questions

Did the person who answered your initial question not provide enough detail? Ask them a clarification question as a follow up to help eliminate misunderstandings.

  • ‘How exactly do you plan to pay me back the money you borrowed?’
  • ‘What did you specifically enjoy about the movie?’

Example Questions

Is the person you’re talking to being vague? Not exactly sure what the person means? Ask for a specific example to get a better picture.

  • ‘Can you give me an example of the type of book you like to read, and why you enjoy it so much?’
  • ‘Could you provide an example of a time you felt angry with your friends?’

Evaluation Questions

These questions help when assessment is needed.

You may be asked to evaluate a class that you took or a meal you had dining at a restaurant. Often these evaluation forms are then used to improve the course or a person’s dining experience. You will notice that often times an evaluation question begins with the word ‘how’.

  • ‘How effective was your teacher’s use of technology in the classroom this semester?’
  • ‘On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your job performance over the past quarter?’

Purpose Questions

Why do people say the things that they do? Purpose questions help to get to the root of a response. If a friend tells you that they can’t come to your party on Saturday night, you will most likely want to know why. A purpose question will help you get the details you desire. Most purpose questions are all about asking ‘why’.

  • ‘Why did you tell mom that you didn’t want to come home for Christmas?’
  • ‘She’s so mean, why would you go out with her?’

Lesson Summary

Probing questions are not just about clarifying specific details; instead, these questions dig much deeper than the surface. An effective probing question helps to get a person to talk about their personal opinions and feelings, and promotes critical thinking.Different types of probing questions can include:

  • Clarification questions, which help eliminate misunderstandings.
  • Example questions, which ask for a specific example to get a better picture.
  • Evaluation questions, which help when assessment is needed by asking ‘how.’
  • Purpose questions, which help to get to the root of a response by asking ‘why.’

Learning Outcomes

When this video ends, you’ll be confident enough to:

  • Describe what probing questions are
  • Differentiate between the types of probing questions
  • Give examples of probing questions

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