Lead Questions

The Lead Question (LQ) frames an investigation. Lead questions are open questions, which means they ask for more than “yes” or “no” answers. Typically the questions we ask start with “why” or “what”, but of course “who”, “where”, and “when” crop up as well.

When crafting a lead question, consider what motivated your curiosity in the first place. Usually this will be an unexpected event or condition. This can range from sore teeth to broken windows, and limitless cases in between. It might seem simple to jump from this unexpected thing to a lead question. Why does Charlie’s tooth hurt? Who broke the window? But we must be careful.

For example, if an apparent sore tooth inspires an investigation, you might ask “Why is Charlie’s tooth sore?” This question looks similar to “Why is Charlie complaining of pain?”, but the two questions allow for different sets of answers. In the first case, when we ask about the soreness of Charlie’s tooth, we assume that the tooth is in fact sore. In the second case we ask a broader question that allows for the possibility that the tooth itself isn’t sore. Perhaps Charlie is imagining soreness, or perhaps the problem isn’t the tooth but the ear, and he’s mistaking the ear pain for tooth pain. (In medical diagnoses, the spot where a patient feels pain is not always the location of the cause of the pain. Cause and effect are not always co-incident.)

Though it might seem simple to craft a lead question, it’s a subtle skill, and one worth exercising. The relationship between the lead question and the evidence is, of course, tight. It’s important to keep in mind that as evidence changes throughout an investigation, so too might the lead question. We must frame questions carefully, keeping the evidence in mind, and ensuring that the answers to the questions we pose capture reasonable possibilities.

Last modified: Wednesday, 7 February 2018, 9:37 PM