If you can’t ask a good question, how can you get a good answer?

But how do you know you’ve asked a good question?
Here are three qualities of a question that you can use to evaluate its level of goodness.

VALUE – Will the answer lead to progress in meeting the goals of your project? yes/no

SCALE – Is the question answerable in the context of your project, or is it too large to get done
or too small to bother with? yes/no

CLARITY – Are the terms specific and understandable and measurable? yes/no

When I discovered this process two weeks ago, I quickly jotted down nine questions. Seven
scored yes, no, no. Two scored yes, yes, and no. All of them were bad! Here is my second attempt at
using these metrics to evaluate questions about my Journals for Seekers project (JFS.)

The process works like this. First set a goal to put limits around the scope of your questioning.
Then brainstorm and evaluate the resulting questions. Then move on to answer your good
questions and lead up to the next round of questioning.

GOAL: Demonstrate to the reader of this blog how the question evaluation procedure can be

1. What is a project I can use as an example?
value – yes, it will help reader understand the process
scale – yes, doable by me
clarity – no. Both “project” and “example” need to be specific
score = yes, yes, no

2. What might be the reader’s goal in reading this blog?
value – yes, if I know this, I can direct focused messages to the reader
scale – undefined – what kind of reader? How many different kinds of readers?
clarity – not really, what does “reader’s goal” mean?
score = yes, no, no

3. What will it take to get JFS to profit?
value – yes
scale – no, too broad & vague
clarity – no, what do “it” and “will it take” mean?
score = yes, no, no

4. If I learn to format and post blogs, will that lead to JFS profit?
value – yes, assuming the answer will speed production and reduce cost
scale – yes and no – costs can be estimated but the impact of teh blog on sales cannot
clarity – yes, specific action, specific outcome
score = yes, yes/no, yes

5. Can I create a believable project plan for JFS?
value – yes
scale – yes, the plan will actually help me understand any scale-up problems
clarity – yes, if I create an appropriately detailed plan
score = yes, yes, yes

At last! A good question. I will go to work writing the project plan.

This process is not original to me. It is a much-simplified version of one I discovered in A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman, by Lindy Elkins-Tanton. She and many others designed this process for use in groups and have gone on to found a company, Beagle Learning, to improve the profession of teaching. Here are notes from their website on the fully-developed process.


“We studied 800 Natural Next Questions from students who had taken our classes, and we came
up with three metrics for what makes such a question a really good one:

1. Relevance: How relevant the question is to the larger learning goal of the class.
2. Scale: The degree to which the question takes the class one reasonable step from their
currently knowledge level to solving the key problem, without needing to be broken into
smaller questions.
3. Articulation: The degree to which the question is well-posed: not too vague, not poorly
worded. Would everyone in the group agree on what this question means?”

I think the Beagle process is of value for individual use and created the short version. Both my
terminology and Beagle’s terminology have drifted with use and ongoing development. So, the
terms are different, but the intent is the same – learn to ask a good question.