What Are the Characteristics of a Good Question?

In the Book of Mormon, many questions are asked, with different purposes. Here are some of the types of questions found in the book:

  • Requesting guidance or direction: “What shall we do?” (Alma 32:5)
  • Requesting information: “What becometh of the souls of men from this time of death to the time appointed for the resurrection?” (Alma 40:7)
  • Searching for understanding: “Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1:7)
  • Seeking to understand another person’s thoughts or feelings: “What desirest thou of me?” (Alma 18:15)
  • Calling someone to action or to repentance: “Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” (2 Nephi 4:27)
  • Inviting: “Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13)
  • Testing someone’s knowledge: “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” (1 Nephi 11:21)
  • Rhetorical questions intended to prompt thought: “Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll?” (Mormon 5:23)

There are also questions which are intended to reinforce negative behavior, to ridicule someone, or to create doubt:

  • Reinforcing negative behavior: “O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?” (Mosiah 12:13)
  • Ridiculing someone: “Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?” (Alma 21:5)
  • Creating doubt: “O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ?” (Alma 30:13)

Here are my observations, after considering all of these types of questions:

  1. Good questions are respectful. They encourage the responder to express themselves and to act for themselves.
  2. Good questions are humble. They generally communicate a lack of knowledge on the part of the questioner.
  3. Good questions tend to be open-ended. They are not burdened with assumptions about the answer. They seek for an expansion of understanding, not a reinforcement of previously held views.
  4. Good questions are hopeful. They encourage faith rather than fear.
  5. Good questions are sincere. They represent the honest intentions of the questioner, with no hidden agenda.

In the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni invites us to ask God if the book is true. He provides the following guidance about how to ask the question in order to ensure that we receive an answer: “If ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4).

Today, I will ask good questions. I will strive to set aside my preconceptions and formulate questions which help me to truly learn. I will ask questions which help me to understand other people and which respect their agency. I will also ask questions which communicate my faith in God and my willingness to follow His guidance.

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