6.8 Types of Interview Questions

Learning Objectives

  • Define closed-ended questions.
  • Define open-ended questions.
  • Define probing questions.
  • Explain the purpose of each type of interview question.

Types of Interviewing Questions

Three types of questions guide the client interview:

  • closed-ended questions
  • open-ended questions
  • probing questions

Closed-ended questions are direct questions you ask when seeking precise information. These questions typically generate a yes or no response or a short answer and do not facilitate a dialogue. Here are some examples in which the answers are typically one word:

  • Do you smoke?
  • Have you been tested for tuberculosis?
  • Do you take the medication as directed?
  • You said the pain started last week. Is that correct?

Closed questions are effective for clients who have difficulty with verbal communication. A head nod or thumb up, thumb down approach can be used with closed questions to enhance client autonomy further while communicating.

Open-ended questions invite the client to share descriptive answers, open up about their experience, and answer in a way that is most relevant or comfortable from their perspective. In response to open-ended questions, clients typically talk in sentences and may even tell stories (in contrast to the short answers to closed-ended questions). Although clients may provide a short answer, this question allows you to probe further. Here are some examples:

  • What was going on in your life when you first started feeling depressed?
  • How have you been feeling in the past week?
  • What are the challenges you are having with your medication regimen?

You should listen to the answer carefully to authentically respond to what the client said and possibly probe further.

Probing questions are types of questions and statements that allow you to gather more subjective data based on a client’s response. These questions can also summarize and clarify a client’s response or resolve discrepancies you identify. These questions and statements can be open- or closed-ended. Here are some examples:

  • Tell me more.
  • Tell me how that affected you.
  • You said you have been doing well since your partner’s death, but I noticed you are teary-eyed as you speak about them. Please talk a bit about that.

Activity: Check Your Understanding

Complete the following drag-and-drop exercise.

Points of Consideration

Learning How to Respond

Sometimes you will not know how to respond when a client says something. For example, they may say something that you do not understand or something that surprises you or takes you off guard. You may consider responding with statements like, “Tell me more” or “Tell me more about what you mean by that.” Avoid statements that may conjure judgment, such as “Why?” or “How come?.” These statements can be interpreted as a demand for an explanation, making the client feel judged and defensive.

Key Takeaways

  • Closed questions are designed to elicit information quickly. These questions are effective to use with clients experiencing difficulty with verbal communication.
  •  Open-ended questions are designed to initiate communication and keep the client talking. These questions can enhance understanding of the client’s lived experience with their health care journey.
  • Probing questions can be used to acquire additional subjective data from a client.
  • Avoid judgmental questions that begin with “Why?” and “How come?”


  1. Consider the type of interview question that would be most appropriate to use:
    • a client who is short of breath
    • a client who is embarrassed due to a sensitive health issue
    • a client who is having chest pain
    • a client experiencing grief and loss
    • a client who is reluctant to share their story
    • a client who stopped talking due to becoming emotional

Attribution Statement

Content adapted, with editorial changes, from:​

Lapum, J., St.-Amant, O., Hughes, M., & Garmaise-Yee, J. (Eds.)(2020). Introduction to communication in nursing. Toronto Metropolitan University Pressbooks. https://pressbooks.library.ryerson.ca/communicationnursing/

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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Professional Communication Skills for Health Studies Copyright © 2023 by Chute, A., Johnston, S., & Pawliuk, B. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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