Types of Questions

The following will become particularly useful if you are utilizing the Power of the Question syllabus.

The first example in each category is from the list of questions that previous students from Y-Press asked on a summer trip to Brazil, where many kids live on the streets. The rest are interview questions from 2001 stories.

First Question/Introduction Questions


Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Y-Press students would always begin our interviews with this general request. It helps to break the ice and clarify important information.

Depending on the situation...
It may be important to ask interviewees to state their school, occupation or position.

Question-Word Questions


What subjects do you learn about in Brazilian schools? Which do you think are most important? Why?

To a recent enlistee: Why did you choose to join the Navy, instead of a different branch of the military?

These questions, which lay the foundation for an interview, generally begin with the words “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” or “how.” These questions also cannot typically be answered with a yes, or I don’t know.

We recommend using “Why”-questions as much as possible. “Why”-questions force an issue to be thoroughly examined.

Man-from-Mars Questions


To a Brazilian citizen: How would you describe Brazil to someone who had never visited before?

To an astronaut: The science of space travel is complex. How would you explain space to a 10-year-old?

These questions encourage the interviewee to explain topics in a new way. Although the “Man from Mars” phrasing is not necessary, it does help the interviewee understand that the reporting team is asking them to explain the topic as if he or she were talking to an outsider who had limited background information.

Statistical or Factual Questions


In 1998, UNICEF’s Progress of Nations reported that four out of 10 Brazilian children leave school before the fifth grade. An estimated 2.5 million have never set foot in a school. Why do you think this happens?

To an Israeli teen-age soldier: We know that it is possible to avoid military service by revealing that your conscience does not allow you to fight. How does this process work? Do you know anyone who has done this?

Although statements and opinions are essential to journalism, so are statistics and data. Using statistics and factual information that you’ve found in research lets the interviewee know that you’re knowledgeable and prepared. It also forces them to respond to concrete evidence.

Voice Questions


“I left home when I was 10 because I was selling peanuts and someone stole them,” said Joao, 13, who stays in a street kids’ shelter in Salvador. “I was too scared to go home because my mother always beat me when I lost stuff.” Do you believe that his experience is typical?

To WNBA player Ruth Riley: Charles Barkley told Sports Illustrated for Kids, “I don’t believe athletes should be role models.” How do you feel about this?

Voice questions ask the interviewee to respond to the words of a child or adult. Answers can help to personalize interviews.

Reflection on Childhood Questions


To Brazil’s First Lady, Mrs. Cardoso: You’re working to improve the conditions for children of Brazil. Was there something in your childhood that influenced your work?

To the founder of an online support group: When you were a child, was there a place where you could talk about what was on your mind and what had been bothering you? If there was, did you ever go there?

The Reflection on Childhood question focuses on childhood events that continue to affect the interviewee, further exploring the “why” aspect of the story, while reinforcing the kid angle.

Event or Accomplishment Questions


To Brazil’s Secretary of Education: What do you think is the greatest accomplishment of your department?

To an astronaut: Which of your space missions did you find most challenging? Which did you like the most?

Event or Accomplishment questions ask the interviewee to focus on a specific event or accomplishment.

Hypothetical Questions


If you were conducting an advertising campaign to get Brazilian kids to go to school, what would you say?

To a recent enlistee: If you were stationed overseas, what do you think would be the most difficult part about keeping up your patriotic spirit? Explain your answer.

Hypothetical questions ask the interviewee to respond to a specific hypothetical situation. Contrast this with the Devil’s Advocate Questions [below].

Devil’s Advocate Questions


To Brazil’s First Lady: How would you respond to claims that your husband only cares about the economy?

To a cosmetic surgeon: Let’s say that one day a person comes up to you and says that what you are doing is morally wrong. What would you say to that person and why?

Sometimes, it is helpful to present an opposing viewpoint to the interviewee. But be careful not to appear as if you are attacking the interviewee.

When asking these questions, it is important to remain objective.

Future Questions


To a teenager living on the streets: What do you think your life will be like in 10 years?

To an adherent of Ayn Rand’s philosophy: Imagine that it’s 20 years from now and your own children or grandchildren are of school age. Realistically, what would you hope their educational experience would be?

Many Y-Pressers have found that posing Future-questions produce thoughtful responses about how the topic will affect future generations. Often the response is a prediction of the prospects for the interviewee’s project.

Out-on-a-Limb Questions


To a Brazilian student who attends private school: Have you ever dreamt that you lived on the streets?

To a girl who is deaf: Have you ever had a dream and in that dream you were a hearing person?

Good journalists aren’t afraid to take risks. Although these questions can lead to dead ends, they can also uncover interesting experiences. Many Y-Pressers have found that these questions produce thoughtful responses about how the topic will affect future generations. Often the response is a prediction of the prospects for the interviewee’s project.

You cannot be sure of the response to these questions.

Last Question


Do you have anything that you would like to add?

Asking this question at the end of the interview allows the interviewee to comment on topics he or she wished had been addressed. It also gives him or her the opportunity to summarize his or her viewpoint or experiences.

Follow-Up Questions


To a group of kids discussing movie ratings: Do you think that movie ratings should serve a purpose?

Interviewee: I think they should be used as a sort of guide, but not like so that if you’re not the certain age you aren’t allowed to go. It should just let the parents know . . . what’s in the movie, like violence, bad language, nudity, and if your parents think you can’t handle any of that, then you shouldn’t go to the movie.

YP: What if your parents aren’t involved in your life? What if just your parents couldn’t care less? Does that give you the right to see it?

When you think an interviewee needs to elaborate on a topic, it is appropriate to ask a follow-up question. Editors should listen for opportunities to ask these questions.

Follow-up questions are difficult to plan; the example above was not on the original list of questions prepared for the interview.