Are There Any Questions?

by Ben Perreira

As an undergrad I had a class called “Interaction Analysis” taught by a Professor Zimmerman. The class was based on how speech can cause communication breakdowns in critical circumstances, such as during 911 calls. At the time I found the class a little dry in between others on criminology and radical social movements. But as I began to more closely examine how research is conducted I became very interested in how we ask questions.

Professor Zimmerman used the example or two questions that garnered two very different response rate. They were:

“Are there any questions?”

“Are there questions?”

His research found that the first statement had a much lower response rate because the “any” caused reluctance in the minds of the parties being questioned. 

The implication is important because from an objective perspective, almost every native English speaker would confirm the two questions are asking the same thing. If we ask people the “same” question and get different answers, the problem is in our own process. That problem then magnifies when we try to analyze the results of the research and find insights where none should exist, or fail to find them where they should exist.

I’m not sure how to make sure all questions are devoid of linguistic bias, but I’m interested in giving it a shot. It’s also why Warren Berger’s “A More Beautiful Question” is next on my reading list.