Monday, 29 June 2020

Different types of target questions

When planning data collection questions for interviews, there are a number of types of questions we have as tools to create our target questions from, which can be clustered into six key domains:
  1. Experience and behaviour questions: "Questions about what a person does or has done aim to elicit behaviors, experiences, actions, and activities that would have been observable had the observer been present: “If I followed you through a typical day, what would I see you doing? What experiences would I observe you having?” “If I had been in the program with you, what would I have seen you doing?” (Patton, 2014, p. 651)
  2. Opinions or values questions: "Questions aimed at understanding the cognitive and interpretive processes of people ask about opinions, judgments and values—”head stuff” as opposed to actions and behaviors: Answers to these questions tell us what people think about some experience or issue. They tell us about people’s goals, intentions, desires, and expectations. 'What do you believe?' 'What do you think about ____?' 'What would you like to see happen?' 'What is your opinion of_____?'" (Patton, 2014, p. 651)
  3. Feeling questions: "Emotional centers in the brain can be distinguished from cognitive areas. Feeling questions aim at eliciting emotions—feeling responses of people to their experiences and thoughts. Feelings tap the affective dimension of human life. In asking feeling questions—for example, 'How do you feel about that?'—the interviewer is looking for adjective responses: anxious, happy, afraid, intimidated, confident, and so on" (Patton, 2014, p. 651)
  4. Knowledge questions: these "inquire about the respondent’s factual information—what the respondent knows. Certain things are facts, like whether it is against the law to drive while drunk and how the law defines drunkenness. These things are not opinions or feelings. Knowledge about a program may include knowing what services are available, who is eligible, what the rules and regulations of the program are, how one enrolls in the program, and so on" (Patton, 2014, p. 652)
  5. Sensory experience questions: "ask about what is seen, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled. Responses to these questions allow the interviewer to enter into the sensory experience of the respondent. 'When you walk through the doors of the program, what do you see? Tell me what I would see if I walked through the doors with you'. Or again, 'What does the counselor ask you when you meet with him? What does he actually say?' Sensory questions attempt to have interviewees describe the stimuli that they experience. Technically, sensory data are a type of behavioral or experiential data—they capture the experience of the senses. However, the types of questions asked to gather sensory data are sufficiently distinct to merit a separate category" (Patton, 2014, p. 652)
  6. Background or demographic questions: "Age, education, occupation, and the like are standard background questions that identify characteristics of the person being interviewed. Answers to these questions help the interviewer locate the respondent in relation to other people. Asking these questions in an open-ended rather than closed manner elicits the respondent’s own categorical worldview. Asked about age, a person aged 55 might respond 'I’m 55' or 'I’m middle-aged' or 'I’m at the cusp of old age' or 'I’m still young at heart' or 'I’m in my mid-50s' or 'I’m 10 years from retirement' or 'I’m between 40 and 60 (smiling broadly)', and so forth. Responses to open-ended, qualitative background inquiries tell us about how people categorize themselves in today’s endlessly categorizing world" (Patton, 2014, p. 652)
We need to be careful to distinguish between opinion and feeling questions: opinion is more analytical, more superficial, and less involving than feeling. We need to be careful that a question actually asks for feelings, or seeks feeling-level answers through prompts or clarifiers if the sought-for answers are not provided. Our questions need to be very clearly worded. For example, if we are seeking a feeling answer, it is clearer for the interviewee to be asked "How do you feel about that?" rather than "What do you think about that?".

Some interviews, due to the research answers being sought, may focus on experience questions, opinion questions, knowledge questions, and background questions. Other projects may focus largely on feeling questions, sensory questions and background questions. But it is useful to know that there are different types of questions.

This is a very interesting area to explore.


  • Cooper, D. R. & Schindler, P. S. (2013). Business Research Methods (12th ed.). Irwin McGraw-Hill.
  • Guest, G., Namey, E. E., & Mitchell, M. L. (2012). Collecting Qualitative Data: A field manual for applied research. SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Patton, M. Q. (2014). Qualitative research and Evaluation Methods (4th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Wengraf, T. (2002). Qualitative research interviewing: Biographic narrative and semi-structured methods. SAGE Publications Ltd.

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