What questions would you ask?

We ran a workshop with some Sunshine Coast folks and asked them who they’d interview if they had the chance, what they’d talk about and what questions they’d ask if they could. Here’s snapshot of what they said.

Gary, in his 60’s and originally from Wales, said he’d ask his wife her views on their migration to Australia. Some of his questions were:

  • How do you feel about the decision we made? Was it the right one?
  • What are your feelings of the bad time? And the good?
  • What would you have done differently if you had her time over?

Chris wanted to ask her dad about his childhood in an orphanage. A couple of her questions were:

  • What was it like living in an orphanage?
  • What was it like being adopted?
  • How has your view of yourself changed over the years?

Ellen (70-something) wanted to talk to her adult daughter who is caring for her daughter – a teenager – and a young grandchild. Ellen would ask:

  • How did you feel when your daughter became pregnant as a teenager?
  • How has this situation affected your life?
  • What are your hopes for yourself, your daughter and your grandson?

Robyn has a friend who was detained and persecuted in South Africa. She thought she would ask:

  • How did you cope being detained?
  • What kept you going?
  • Do you think about those times? What do you think about?
  • Tell me about planning your escape?

Grant wanted to talk to his father about his time as a bomb disposal officer in the army.

  • What was the training like to become a bomb-disposal officer?
  • Were there any a scary times or events?
  • How did you feel each time you were called to an event?
  • Why did you do this job?

80-year-old Morrie thought he’d want to tell someone about his longstanding involvement with dancing. We thought the questions might be:

  • Why did you start dancing?
  • Why did you start organising dances and other events?
  • Can you talk about how dancing was fulfilling for your own life? How about for your relationship with your wife, your fiends and family?

Joan wanted to ask her grown daughter what she remembers of living through the Blue Mountains bush fires as a child in the ‘70s.

  • What do you remember about the house we were living in?
  • What are your memories of what was going on outside?
  • How did you feel about what was happening?
  • Can you remember what you did?
  • I’ve often wanted to ask you how it was for you. Did you wonder how it was for me?


Questions tips

In a conversation we each listen and we each ask questions and so the conversation unfolds. A recording session with The Story Project is like this, with the additional twist that you may want to prepare some questions beforehand to keep you on track.

The key thing when asking questions is to:

  • Ask questions that open up stories – and won’t give just a one word answer like Yes or No or a single fact
  • Include questions that will take the conversation to a deeper level, for example, ‘How did that make you feel?’ or  ‘Why was that important for you?’ Even ‘Tell me more about…’.
  • Use attentive listening (see our listening tips)

For inspiration, check out these examples of great questions:

  1. What gives you the most pleasure or satisfaction in remembering this part of your life/ this event?
  2. Looking back, what was the highlight of this time?
  3. What were the most challenging things about this time / this event?
  4. What do you think you learned from this?
  5. Did things turn out differently to what you expected?
  6. Why was this person (or time or place) so important to you?
  7. Are there things you would do differently now?
  8. Why……?

You might also be inspired by the Great Questions List from the US StoryCorps project, or by the questions generated by our local community in a recent “What questions would you ask?” workshop.