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A Quick Guide of Asking Good Questions

As a tester, we don’t just confirm things, we question things.

As a tester, we don’t just follow steps by steps in test cases to verify against the expected result, we question the system to reveal something new about the system.

Also, let’s take a look at definition of testing from James Bach:

“Testing is the process of evaluating a product by learning about it through exploration and experimentation, which includes to some degree: questioning, study, modeling, observation, inference, etc.”-James Bach

It’s clearly that asking good questions plays important role to help us do better testing.

What are the benefits of asking good questions?

1) Asking questions helps us to avoid assumption.

It’s interesting that people often mean different things when they talk about the same thing and mean the same things when they talk about different things. Asking question helps us know if people mean what they say or they say what they mean.

2) Asking questions helps us resolve problem.

More often, when people ask for help, they ask for a solution for the problem they perceive.

I see many testers approach me and ask for a test case template, test plan template or something similar without telling why they need it. I often disappoint them. Of course, I can provide a template but it’s unlikely that will solve the problem. It’s my habit to question the question to understand the real problem before providing advices or suggestions. In many cases, what people want is not what people need. Questioning the question is one of first steps to solve problem.

What is a good question and how it looks like?

how to ask good question

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A good question to me is a question:

1) When you ask the right things.

You have to know what problem you are trying to solve or what you need or expect from the answer before asking the question.

Ask yourself the same question before asking other for helps.

Also Wrong questions get wrong answers

2) …And in right way

  • Make sure you are not asking the same question you or someone already asked before. This will avoid the waste of time of repeating the answers which you’d better look up and find yourself.
  • Tell a little bit about what you have done to find the answer before asking here. This shows that you are not a lazy asker :-).
  • Put the context around your question. Why, What, When, How…This will help answerers have better understanding of your questions so that they can answer your questions better.
  • As long as you are not expecting a quick Yes/No, try to avoid Yes-No question. WH-questions are more recommended because WH-questions encourages more information answers.
  • Spell check. This is optional but reader will highly appreciate the effort to make your question clean and easy to read.

Now let’s take a look at some examples:

“Hi, any good test case management tool to share? Thanks”

This is a not good question because:

  • This is a Yes/No question. Answering with either Yes or No is not helpful anyway.
  • This question does not tell why the question is asked? Why the asker needs a tool? What’s problem the asker is facing by asking for a tool? What tools the asker already knew? What is a good test case management tool to the asker?

Now, let’s take a look the second one:

“Hi, for now my team (3 members) is using Excel spreadsheet to manage test case and it works fine. However, my team will be growing big (10 or more) and may be distributed so Excel spreadsheet seems not to work well. I’m looking for a good test case management tool with below requirements:

Works with both Mac and Windows

Web-based tool

Can link test requirement and test cases

Free.

I’ve tried with Bugzilla but that’s not what I’m looking for.

Any other suggestions? Thanks“

As you can see, the second question is much better because it tells reader the context around the questions, what kind of answers the asker is looking for and the asker is not a lazy asker.

Personally, this is type of question I would love to answer and provide suggestions if I know a thing or two about the subjects.

Final thoughts

ask good question

In general, asking a good question is not that difficult. The important points to focus is

  1. Put a little context/information around your question,
  2. What kind of answer you are looking for
  3. What you did to find the answers by yourself.

Actually, there’s no single format of a good question, you can only ask good question by practicing it

[Updated – Dec-2015]:

I’ve recently shared 6 Tips for Testers on Asking Questions on Stickyminds. The post covers most of tips I can think of to practice asking good questions. You may want to check it out.

Comments ( 4 )

  1. augeva
    June 5, 2015 at 10:30 pm
    Very good advice Thanh!
  2. Thanh Huynh
    June 6, 2015 at 11:12 am
    Thanks Augusto. Glad you see it helpful :-)
  3. Tony Bruce
    July 8, 2015 at 6:35 pm
    Hi Thanh,

    Good post, I touched on a similar topic in a workshop.
    The slides are available here: http://dancedwiththesoftware.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/one-more-question-slides-from-cast2014.html
  4. Thanh Huynh
    July 8, 2015 at 8:39 pm
    Thanks Tony.

    I like the slides. I'll re-visit them for reference.

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About [Thanh Huynh]

Thanh is owner of AskTester and also a tester. Thanh cares about how to do better testing and how to help other testers do better testing too. Contact me via: LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+|Email: thanh[at]asktester[dot]com

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