Probing Questions: Types & Examples

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  • 0:00 What are Probing Questions?
  • 0:45 Probing VS Clarifying…
  • 2:25 Types of Probing Questions
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

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. 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 décor 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?'

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Additional Activities

Probing Question Writing Activity

Develop a Set of Probing Questions

For this activity, you will be given a situation that requires various probing questions to attain the desired information. You will need to write several examples of probing questions that you would ask in this situation. Make sure to include at least one of the following types of probing questions: clarification, example, evaluation, and purpose.

The Situation:

You have made plans to have lunch with one of your closest friends. However, as soon as your friend arrives at the restaurant, you immediately realize that something is wrong. He seems to be irritated and in a bad mood, but he won't outwardly talk to you about it. Since you are curious and want to help your friend, you decide to ask him questions about what is bothering him. Create a set of several probing questions that you would ask your friend to help him open up about his problem.

Possible Probing Questions to Ask:

  • You look upset. What's going on?
  • What specifically did your boss say?
  • Could you give me an example of something he said to you?
  • How would you evaluate yourself on that project?
  • Is there anything else going on at work that would cause your boss to say something like that to you?
  • Why do you let your boss talk to you like that?

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