How To Create A Good Question Set
We're aiming to lay out what we believe makes for a good question in a guided conversation. The advice below should be seen as advisory, not mandated. We believe it is helpful in most cases, but there may be times when it's appropriate to break the rules.
In order to ensure people are focussed and able to answer, questions should be as clear as possible. The question should be concise, and understandable by anyone who knows the topic. They should require no lengthy explanation.
Takeaway: Is the question a single, simple sentence?
A good question lends itself to having a conversation. That means that there has to be something to converse about. If a question has a single distinct answer (or a very tight group of answers), it's probably not going to lead to good conversation.
Takeaway: You can think of at least two responses to a question. "It depends..." is a good response.
For a guided conversation to work, all participants need to be able to engage in the conversation. One thing that stops that is questions that are too complex, requiring deep knowledge of the subject to be able to contribute. While an expert may have more to say on a subject, a newcomer should be able to at least ask good questions about the conversation in-progress.
Takeaway: you don't need to be an expert to answer the question.
A conversation is only worthwhile when people listen and reflect before answering. A number of questions cause people to dig into their pre-held beliefs, effectively shutting down the conversation. It's best to avoid questions that can be "Them and us".
Takeaway: Could the question divide the audience, forcing them to argue for their side?
If you are working in a technical domain, you will also want to avoid questions that require experience of particular tools, libraries, or languages. It's fine to talk about concepts like, say Dependency Injection, but questions shouldn't require knowledge of a specific tool like Spring. The resulting conversation may use examples from particular tools, but these should be understandable by anyone who is in the conversation.
Takeaway: Does the question avoid specific technologies, preferring ideas?
A question is used to guide people through the conversation. It should follow naturally from the last, or help the conversation cover more ground in the overall topic. Having written a number of questions, it's always worth trying to reorder them a few times to see if there's a better way to run them, such that a novice might have built greater understanding in the early questions to better participate later.
Takeaway: Does the question flow from the last question? Does it help people understand and explore the topic better?
The most effective way of creating your question set is to bounce your ideas off a peer who is interested in the subject and understands the guided conversation format. Exposing our ideas to others often strengthens them and can lead you to question paths you wouldn't have explored otherwise.
Takeaway: Does someone else agree that your question set is coherent and meets the rest of these suggestions?
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