How to Make the Right Question

How to Make the Right Question

How to make the right question

Questioning techniques

Questions are used in a variety of different ways and not always just to obtain information. Asking the right type of question at the right time can make the difference between a successful exchange and an unsuccessful one. Look at the following examples of different question types.

a If you were in my position, how would you approach this? b Why didn't you follow my instructions? c Do you know who I could ask for some advice about this?

d Shall we move on to the next question?

1 Match the different types of question with a-d above.

1 Invitation questions are used either to invite someone to do something or to make a suggestion about what you think should be done.

2 Hypothetical questions are often phrased using a conditional form. This reassures the listener and makes the question easier to answer.

3 Negative questions are often used to criticise other people. They can also express annoyance or surprise.

4 Embedded questions are in two parts: an introductory question + affirmative verb. This makes the question more indirect and polite.

2 Look at the following questions. Which types of question are they?

1 What would you do if you were asked?

2 How about taking a break?

3 Don't you realise how important this is?

4 Could you tell me where I can get a copy of that?

5 Do you have any idea when the modifications will be made?

6 Why didn't you tell me?

3 Choose one of the situations below and prepare the questions that the supervisor would ask. Take turns to play the roles of the supervisor and the employee.

1 An employee in your department has been using the company's computer to update his/her weblog (internet diary). You suspect that he/she may have given away confidential information.

2. The report that you asked an employee to prepare contains a number of mistakes. Information about sales figures is inaccurate and there are a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes.

3 You need to ask an employee to replace you for one day at a trade show. You know that this is a difficult thing to ask as he/she has a lot of work at the moment.

Questioning styles

In some cultures, people say exactly what they mean and it doesn't cause offence to ask direct questions. Other cultures prefer to talk in vaguer terms. They usually ask more general questions to avoid embarrassment. Which culture do you belong to? Complete your…

Culture Profile

Language check

1 Put the words in the correct order to make questions

  1. who / you / were / if / me / would / invite / you?

If you were me, who would you invite?

  1. updating / about / the / how / website?
  2. I / you / how / don't / realise / busy / am?
  3. a / we / have / shall / meeting / intranet / about / the?
  4. files / the / know / you / do / downloaded / who?
  5. any / to / have / idea / do / you / system / the / how / install?
  6. the / you / get / would / do / to / what / information?
  7. about / you / the / me / why / tell / didn't / hardware / new?

2 Decide which of the questions in exercise 1 are:

  1. an invitation 2, 4
  2. hypothetical
  3. negative
  4. embedded

3 Complete the gaps appropriately.

  1. You weren't late for the meeting, were you?
  2. That problem will really delay the launch of the software, ______?
  3. You ______show me the new machinery, ______?
  4. He didn't tell you about the surveillance operation, ______?
  5. Getting the new equipment ______mean redundancies in the long term, won't it?
  6. The managers won’t be coming to the trials, ______?

How to explain objectives

Setting goals

One of the keys to managing a project successfully is to set clear goats for everyone who is involved so that they know exactly what they have to achieve and by what time. Look at some of the phrases that can be useful when setting goals.

a What's the schedule for this? e So what exactly would be involved?

b How much are you budgeting for ... ? f When do I have to get this in by?

c I think we should aim to ... g Is that feasible?

d What will you need in the h Does that sound reasonable/doable?

way of resources?

1 Read a dialogue between a project manager and members of her team. Does she

respect the following advice?

Project manager: So, Sylvia, are you ready to take on the market research side of the project?

Sylvia: Well, I really need some more detailed information. What exactly would be involved?

PM: Well, I don't have the specifics yet but I can give you a general idea. We're planning to create a new range of beauty products for women in the Asian and Arab World markets. We're convinced there's a market out there but we need to do some basic research to find out more about the products that are already being used.

Sylvia: OK. So you want us to conduct some interviews and prepare a full market report, is that it?

PM: Yeah. That's exactly it. Your report will tell us what sorts of products we need to design.

Sylvia: So, how many interviews will I have to arrange?

PM:I don't know exactly, but we can discuss that later on. And don't worry; I'm sure the Asian office will be able to help us with all that. That way, you can just focus on the data.

Sylvia: OK. But what about dates? When do I have to get this in by?

PM: Let's say six weeks from now. Does that sound reasonable?

Sylvia: There's no way we can do it by then! I'd say it'll take at least two months, if not more.

When you set goals you should always make sure that they are realistic, precise and timed.

2 Read again and answer the questions. What is the role of each person the project manager talks to? What goal is set in each case?

Which of phrases a-h above do the speakers use?

3 Work in pairs. Take turns to play the roles of senior manager and project leader. Set goals (time, resources and budget) together for each of the projects below.

The senior manager has asked the project leader to:

  1. take responsibility for organising the transfer of the company's headquarters to a new location
  2. prepare a one-week training course for senior executives
  3. create a new company website
  4. organise the company's annual sales conference

4 Work in pairs. Brainstorm ideas for a project that you would like to initiate. Draw up a brief outline and discuss your project with another pair.


Choose one of the projects in exercise 3 and write an email to your team, summarising the goals that you agreed on with your manager.

Respecting deadlines

In some cultures, attitudes to time are different and it is not always considered essential to respect a deadline. What is the case in your culture? Do people try to complete work on time or do they consider it normal for deadlines to be extended?


1 Complete the article about software projects with the following words:

negligence glitch system programs budget delays launch plan schedule

2 Read the article again. Are the statements true or false?

  1. There were five serious air crashes in September. false
  2. The air-traffic control system had problems with their computer program.
  3. A report suggested that the majority of software projects take longer than expected.
  4. The writer blames computer programmers and their managers for projects failing.
  5. Longhorn is an example of a project that went according to plan.


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