Asking Great Questions

By E. Vance, I. Trumble, J. Alzen, H. Smith


The questions we ask and how we ask them will make a difference in how successful we are in meetings, in collaborations, and in our careers as statisticians and data scientists. What makes a question good and what makes a good question great? Great questions elicit information useful for accomplishing the tasks of a project and strengthen the statistician-domain expert relationship. Great questions have three parts: the question, the answer, and the paraphrasing of the answer to create shared understanding. We discuss three strategies for asking great questions: preface questions with statements about the intent behind asking the question, follow the question with behaviors and actions consistent with the prefaced words including actions such as listening, paraphrasing, and summarizing; and model a collaborative relationship via the asking of a great question.

We describe the methods and results of a study that shows how questions can be assessed, that statisticians can learn to ask great questions, and that those who have learned this skill consider it to be valuable for their careers. We provide practical guidelines for learning how to ask great questions so that statisticians can improve their collaboration skills and thus increase their impact to help address societal challenges.

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