Regardless of the occupation or personality of your characters, it is an advantage if they know how to construct questions to elicit the information they require. This doesn’t just pertain to detectives or journalists (although I would argue many journalists could use a course in questioning techniques). It can be used by everyone and anyone to gain some information.
Let’s look at types of questions:
- Closed question. A closed question generally means an obstructive person or shy person will only provide a yes or no answer if given the choice. It is what it is - closed. It may be used effectively when leading someone to a point before requiring detail or when confirming detail. For example: Did you kill the maid? The answer can only be yes or no. There is no room for expansion because you haven’t asked for expansion.
- Open question. The best type of question to ask in order to get the other person talking and ideal as a first question to get the other person to explain their story. For example: Describe in detail how you killed the maid. You see how there is no room for a simple yes or no answer.
- Leading questions. Most favoured by journalists. Personally, not my favourite because they lead a subject onto a topic that you want to hear about. Unlike probing (which I’ll get to), these do not allow for a conversation to naturally, or skillfully, flow by letting the subject tell their story. For example: You said an email to the maid that you desired her; and it is apparent that this may be questionable intentions in the context of her murder - who do you think killed her?
- Probing questions. As opposed to leading questions, their is no accusatory connotations regarding an incident. It’s not going as far as a leading question. You get the subject on track and then follow up with an open question. For example: You said in an email to the maid that you desired her - what bearing do you think this has on the case?
- Mirror questions. Simply put - you repeat the previous answer given and then ask another. This should not be overused because it is an obvious attempt at buying time to ask the next question. For example: Subject: I have no recollection of that night. Interviewer: So, you have no recollection of that night, why?
- Multiple choice. Another one for the journalists among us. No need to explain in detail here. The main problem is that you must know what choices are available. By that I mean if the reason for something happening is outside of the choices you are given, then you are showing your hand that you don’t know. For example: Do you prefer killing with a knife or a gun?
This information may help when considering how your characters will ask questions. Although the examples I provided are basic, I hope they put the type of questions in context.