Is Your Questioning Process HOT, or Not?

Level 6 Questions Guarantee Better Answers. In the absence of right questions, right answers are out of the question. Fact, or fun with words?

Actually, both. While a cursory evaluation of the opening sentence may suggest little more than cutesy linguistic manipulation, there is a profound pithiness in the lilting phraseology that holds great importance to people who value, and who seek to influence the quality of their thinking.

There are Questions and Then There are Questions

If you ask most people how many types of questions there are, you’re likely to get blank stares; then, as soon as it’s polite, they’ll move away from you at the party so they don’t have to talk to you any more. Perhaps this aversion to thinking about things that have to do with thinking is understandable in social settings, but realizing that there are different types of questions and knowing that the types of questions you ask drive your thinking and directly influence your actions and outcomes is incredibly important knowledge. Why isn’t it taught in school? From the new book about critical thinking: Think Well & Prosper: A Critical Thinking Guide, by Steve Bareham

Not to keep you in suspense, there are six different types of questions that encompass most situations and needs:

  • memory questions
  • reasoning questions
  • analysis questions
  • evaluation and judgement questions
  • inferential questions
  • creative questions

It is my assertion in this paper that too many people fail to proceed past the third type of questioning, not because they don’t want to or can’t, but largely because they don’t know the others exist or that they should plumb them in any habitual and systematic way. It is also my belief that the higher hanging fruits of thinking cannot be accessed without climbing the inference and creativity ladders.

Hopefully everyone can agree with the premise that information, in and of itself, is inert. Only by applying our minds and by choosing to massage information can we make it useful. To breathe life into information we use association cues, either subconsciously or deliberately. For example, when considering information, or when contemplating actions, people usually do at least some of the following:

  • apply memory/reflection
  • interpret
  • define
  • reason
  • analyze
  • categorize/classify
  • assess relevancy and value
  • make connections
  • draw inferences
  • apply logic
  • contrast/compare
  • anticipate outcomes
  • judge/evaluate
  • check assumptions
  • create
  • decide how to apply
  • determine how to evaluate
  • create adjustment process

How Does All This Questioning Stuff Work?

The six levels of questioning can be demonstrated by using examples drawn from the world of writing and grammar.

Level 1: Memory Questions

When we ask memory questions we call up past knowledge and experience (we retrieve data from our cranial hard drives). Memory information requires us only to recall. For example:

What are the seven coordinate conjunctions (FANBOYS) used in the English language?

Such a question tests your memory but little else. Still, you’re at Level 1 and without an answer you could not progress to Level 2.

Level 2: Reasoning Questions

Some of the definitions for reasoning, or to reason, according to Webster’s, is: “…to calculate; to determine rational ground for a motive; explanation; logical defense; something that supports a conclusion or that explains a fact…”

To answer the following question, reasoning would have to be applied.

The study of grammar and punctuation is a purposeful endeavor that is important to full scope managers. What is the purpose of these areas of study?

To answer Level 2 questions you must understand:

  • what the words grammar and punctuation mean (memorization), but also
  • be able to explain how they can aid managers in their careers (to do this you need to apply reasoning)

Level 3: Analysis Questions

Parts of the Webster’s definition for “analysis,” include: “…the separation of a whole into component parts; an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relationships…”

So, to answer the following question, one would have to have knowledge of the FANBOYS, understand how they are used, and then systematically examine all the constituent functions to which they are put.

What functions do coordinate conjunctions serve in the English language?

A respondent would have to know what coordinate conjunctions are and be able to analyze what purposes they serve.

Level 4: Judgment and Evaluation Questions

Webster’s definitions (judge and judgment): “…a process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning or comparing; the weighing of evidence and the testing of premises…”

Webster’s definition (evaluate/evaluation): “…to determine the significance, worth, or condition of by careful appraisal and study…”

An example of questions that would require people to be able to “judge” and to “evaluate,” could be:

Is it possible to be a successful manager without good command of the language? What other skills would make up for language deficiencies?

Here you need memory and reasoning, but you must also be able to evaluate the appropriateness of different options and then apply informed judgment as to relative pros and cons.

Level 5: Inferential Questions

Webster’s definitions of infer and inference include: “…to derive as a conclusion from facts…; the act of passing from one proposition, statement, or judgment considered as true to another whose truth is believed to follow from that of the former…”

So, when we draw inferences, we make connections that seem logical and sound based on evidence that we either possess or gather. Quite often, the power of inference can be quite lateral in nature and scope, meaning that individuals who routinely seek deep and broad inferences often move their minds in directions that seem quite divorced from the concepts that may have started the initial train of thought. For example, one would need to be able to draw inferences to answer the following question:

Limited language abilities suggests limited thinking abilities as well. How can such a proposition be suggested?

A person must be able to draw inferences that lead to conclusions to answer such a question.

Level 6: Creative Questions

Some of the dictionary definitions of “creativity” include: “…something created rather than imitated; to produce through imaginative skill…”

It has been suggested that creativity is one of the higher forms of thinking and this, one could infer, is particularly true if one applies all the previous levels of questioning and thought before embarking on the process of creation. To prove this point, to create the task set out in the following would require considerable memory, reasoning, analysis, judgment, evaluation, and inference:

There are only three articles in the English language. What if they did not exist? Write a 100-word paragraph that is technically correct in terms of grammar and punctuation, but that contains not a single article.

To answer these questions someone would have to be able to cope with all six levels of questioning.

  • Memory: what are the articles?
  • Reasoning & Analysis: what would the language be without them?
  • Judgment & Evaluation: what other words could substitute? Is my product technically correct?
  • Inference: what purpose could such an assignment serve?
  • Creativity: considerable needed to achieve task.

So, What’s It All About?

Suppose you are an employer interviewing new job applicants. Understanding the Level 6 questions could enable you to probe specific competencies and abilities. Think about the value of being able to move beyond simple memory questions to:

  • test reasoning abilities
  • test an applicant’s judgment abilities
  • get them to engage in evaluation of different options
  • probe inferential abilities
  • ascertain if creativity is in abundance or scarcity

Watch a YouTube video about critical thinking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4npaRNmy5jk