Interviewing: One Question at a Time

In my working life, I've attended tons of discovery sessions, conducted informational interviews and usability tests, listened to vendor demos and been in too many meetings to count. The thing that gets me the most are the questions. 

You have questions! This is good. What is not good is asking more than one at a time. You know the type. Those massive questions that stretch on and on, asking for 3 or 4 things, that include various other points as you go along. By the time the questioner has stopped talking, the answerer: 

  1. Doesn't remember any of what was asked.
  2. Only remembers the last question, or the first, or whichever one they managed to cull from the oratory.
  3. Only chooses to answer the easiest question.
  4. Ends up answering none satisfactory. 

 I remember being in journalism classes back in the day, when the rule was "if you want an answer, ask one direct question at a time." And to make it more fun, the question couldn't be answered with "yes" or "no." 

When you're conducting user research, or even trying to get to the bottom of an issue in a meeting, just ask one question at a time! And just ask the question: don't add fluffery, don't hedge and don't include your reasons for asking. You have a right to the answer to your question, so make your question easier to answer.

By the way, after you ask your question don't jump in to fill the uncomfortable silence (if any). The person is probably thinking. Thinking can cause answers.