How to Ask Effective Questions Using Key Words

Learn How to Ask the Best Questions.

Tools: A few short lists of key words.
Technique: How to use appropriate key words and phrases.
1) To cut through the drivel and get to salient matter;
2) To better discern between factual and judgmental information;
3) To better understand and communicate ideas; and
4) To create clearer points of focus for resolving differences.

Trees and Stop Sign

When Looking for Facts, I Begin Questions With…
These are the ideal interrogative pronouns, as they elicit responses with substance, and cannot be answered with a mere Yes or No. Keep in mind that Yes and No answers are the quickest ways to end a conversation.

In conversation, I Use Sparingly…
Why This word usually leads to an answer that is in the form of an opinion, or it is whatever the respondent thinks I want to hear in order to be placating. Makes it difficult for me to know if the answer is factual, opinionated, or placating.
But Denotes a contradiction. Even when I use it in contradicting, it tends to kick in the respondent’s self-defense mode and limits the effectiveness of further conversation. I found it more effective, instead, to use the word And in its place, or to rephrase my question so I can use And.
We are so accustomed to using But and Why without thinking, that we all too often unintentionally create a position that the respondent feels a need to defend or attack, shifting attention toward the emotional and away from the objectivity.
For Approval or Rejection of a Statement, I Begin Questions With…
When starting a question with such words, I am including a statement that usually colors and limits the response. It then becomes difficult to know when the answer is truthful or merely placating. Questions starting with these words often lead to a Yes or No answer, and are best used when I seek simple approval or disapproval of my statement.
When Being Judgmental, I Use…
Have to
Need to
Got to
These words are used effectively only when I am passing judgment on something, or when expressing social norms (traditions, laws and morals). These words move the focus away from facts and toward individual or group beliefs, which can be divisive. When trying to reach agreement (and agreement is always the more pleasant result), I try to avoid these words.
When Not Stating a Proven Fact, I Begin Sentences With…
I understand that
I believe
I prefer
In my opinion
I think
These phrases generally express my beliefs (traditions, social norms, laws) and things that are not proven beyond an acceptable shadow of a doubt. Therefore my use of these words is most effective when factual information is absent.

How, When, Where, What, Who…

I suggest keeping handy a copy of these words:


They are the ones you want to remember and use most frequently. Keep the entire list where you can see and refer to it.

What would be the benefit of requiring journalists to rate an “A” in English grammar and vocabulary?
• Their choice of words and how they are placed together have a huge impact on the reader’s or listener’s perception and interpretation of events.
• Their objectivity is more evident when reports contain the “how, when, where, what, and who”, for a more complete picture of the circumstances.
• Accuracy and thoroughness are good measures of journalistic professionalism.


It helped me to take my time in conversation, to recognize my own words as I spoke, and to rephrase my questions or statements when I noticed I used one of these words incorrectly, or not as I intended, repeatedly rephrasing as often as it took to get the right sentence out.

When entering a conversation, I have obtained the best results when I set my mind’s focus on finding a solution, and on resisting urges to grandstand or to lay blame.

It’s not the type of behavior I grew up with, and, having learned it late in life, I still have to put a good bit of effort into formulating my questions. It’s worth the work, as you’ll find that the need to blame, and other uncomfortable emotions, will quickly take a back seat to the informed thought process that emanates from the conversation.

I learned English as a teenager, and difficulties in expressing myself and in understanding the intentions of respondents prompted me to compile this list in 2001. It is not a new concept, however I found the above format to be the most helpful.

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(Tags: List of words that start a question, What words make good questions, How to ask good questions, Guide to asking effective questions, How to write good surveys, Question words to ask certain types of questions, WH question words, List of question words, List of interrogative words, How to start a question in English)

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