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Types of questions

Types of questions

There are many ways in which questions can be phrased but there are three main types: closed, open and implicit. By looking closely at the choice of words you will get an idea what you need to include in your essay.

Closed questions

It may be helpful to view these questions as asking for a response within a set range of given options, e.g. yes or no, a or b or to see your response as being on a sliding scale, e.g. agree/agree in parts/don’t really agree.

You will need to come to a judgement, stating and explaining your reasoning for coming to that judgement.

e.g. To what extent do you agree that penguins make great pets?

agree/disagree scale

Open questions

Whilst still clearly questions, these may be slightly harder to interpret than closed questions as the range of possible responses is more up to you. The question will ask for an explanation and analysis/evaluation in some form e.g. Why? How? In What ways? For what reasons? The structure here would be have a new point in answer to the question in each paragraph, hence it sometimes being called a 3 pointer (or 4/5 pointer depending on how many points you were making).

3 pointer

Why do penguins make the best pets?

Graphic showing a 3 pointer question/essay structure

Implicit questions

These are so called because the question is implied rather than stated e.g. Discuss, A study of. You will need to spend time working out exactly what is meant or implied in the question. Some people then find it helpful to change it into a question e.g. “penguins make great pets” Discuss, is actually asking you whether they make great pets and asks for a sliding scale judgement response.

Helpful hints

  • Be realistic – if your question is too big it becomes descriptive as you’ve covered so much that you can’t go into more analytical depth
  • Keep focussed – if your question is too vague or unfocussed it will have a weak structure or argument as there is no criteria to exclude material that is irrelevant
  • Stay analytical – try to avoid a descriptive question, make sure you give yourself a problem or enquiry to solve
  • Challenge yourself – make sure your question challenges you rather than presupposes a simple black or white answer which doesn’t allow you to demonstrate your higher thinking