How to Write Discussion Questions

Need to create some discussion questions for a class, book club, or business meeting? Posing an insightful question can bring new insights. Some simple guidelines can ensure the questions spur discussion - instead of stifle it!


  1. 1
    Clarify the topic for yourself. You cannot ask a good question if you are unclear on this topic! Take the time up front to familiarize yourself with the topic.
    • Be familiar with any necessary materials related to the discussion. Read the book, review the conference materials, take a look at your notes, and so on.
    • State the topic for discussion. Generally, this will be a one-to-two sentence question. For example:
      • "With the latest sales data, how do we maximize our profitability this next quarter?"
      • "If Juliet lived in the 21st century in your town, do you think she would make different choices?"
      • "Knowing this student's diagnosis of anxiety, how can we meet her needs in the classroom?"
  2. 2
    Determine the most important parts of your data. Select the most important points, as these are the ones worth discussing and pondering. In the above discussion:
    • "Our sales force consistently reported that Model X-12 is not selling as well as predicted; should we offer a discount to boost sales?"
    • "Would Juliet's suicide be averted?"
    • "Would it be possible for the student to have daily check-ins with the guidance counselor?"
    • When you come across a point that seems to have a simple answer, ask yourself if there could be another perspective or interpretation.
  3. 3
    Using your list, write down several open-ended questions. Try to come up with several more than necessary. If you need to come up with three questions, come up with five and then cut the two you feel are weakest.
    • These kinds of questions often begin with phrases like "Why..." , "How does..?" "How can we explain..." and "What does this mean?"
    • Are you still confused, or unclear on the topic? Excellent! The point of discussion is often as a learning opportunity, not as a way to get to a pre-determined goal.
      • If you are confused on a point, likely another person will be as well.
      • Honesty about not knowing the answer is bravery. It is easy to set yourself up as the all-knowing guru, but more difficult to say "I don't know".
  4. 4
    Ensure your questions do not require access to knowledge or material that might not be available to the other participants in the discussion. If people require outside knowledge that is unavailable to them, they will be unable to participate in the discussion, no matter how good your question is.
    • In the context of a class or course other knowledge can be assumed, but always be aware of your audience.
    • Remember that good discussion questions often do not have a single answer! That's ok! Your goal is to spur discussion, not necessarily find the single correct answer to your question.
  5. 5
    Re-read your questions and confirm that they are clear. Open-ended does not mean vague! It should be immediately clear to someone what you are asking them to discuss and comment on.
    • Ask a friend or colleague to take a look at your questions to get feedback if you are unsure about their clarity.


  • Good discussion questions come from a place of knowledge, not ignorance! Make sure you are familiar with the material before writing discussion questions. You don't need to feel 100% confident in your understanding, but discussion questions generally come after the basic factual material is understood.
  • In other words, good discussion questions ask "So What?" rather than just "What?"
  • Good discussion questions are open-ended. They will often lead the discussion in places even the questioner did not anticipate.


  • Avoid questions with simple yes/no or factual answers. If your question can be answered definitively with a single sentence, it will not inspire much discussion!
  • Avoid questions that lead the discussion in a particular direction by including or hinting at an expected or desired answer. Such questions can cause people who disagree with that answer to feel unwelcome and less willing to participate in the discussion.

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Categories: College and University Study Techniques | Discussion Pages