Research

Why The Way You Ask A Question Can Determine The Answer

The question you ask can shape or even determine the answer you get. Questions need to be crafted with a great deal of care. Let me tell you a story about two priests to illustrate this point.

Two older Irish priests were down at the pub having a pint and a smoke. And as they chatted and lit up another cigarette, they discussed smoking and praying. One said to the other ‰”What do ya think Seamus, is it all right to smoke and pray at the same time?‰” His friend took another puff and exhaling he replied ‰”I don‰’t rightly know Joe. I suppose we should sort that out‰”. So after another pint and much discussion they decided they‰’d each write to the Pope and ask him.

So Father Joe wrote to the Pope and he said ‰”Is it permissible to smoke while praying?‰” And the Pope replied ‰”When in prayer your focus should be on God, and smoking would distract you from that. So, no, I do not recommend smoking during prayer‰”.

Father Seamus also wrote to the Pope and he asked ‰”Is it permissible to pray while smoking?‰” And the Pope replied ‰”The Apostle Paul told us ‰’Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer‰’ (Romans 12:12). So of course it permissible to pray while smoking.‰”

So in Dublin, even to this day, Father Joe does not smoke while praying, and Father Seamus prays while smoking: each having gotten the answer to the question they asked.

Reading

The Art of Asking Questions: Stanley Payne, Princeton University Press, 1951
Survey Questions: Handcrafting the Standardized Questionnaire (Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences) by Jean M. Converse and Stanley Presser, Sage, 1986



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