How to ask a better yes/no question


It’s the simplest question in the world, right? In fact, so simple that I didn’t even notice I was asking one in the first sentence.

Despite being very easy to ask, yes/no questions aren’t always that straightforward. There’s a lot going on in those two options.

— Where can a question with so few options go wrong? people often say

I’m glad you asked.

Know what you’re asking

I remember someone telling me that they had been involved in a recent consultation over the question that should be asked in a political referendum.

The thing that people were being asked to do was to decide whether a country should become independent.

Or wait. Was that what they were being asked?

There was a lot of confusion. Some said that the country would become independent immediately after the result of the referendum. Some people said that the country should begin the process of becoming independent after the referendum. Some people said that the country should just be indicating that they want to become independent.

But ultimately, someone had to put all of those varying desires into a simple question. And as we’ve already established, it’s easy to ask a yes/no question.

  • Know what you’re asking your respondents to give an opinion on
  • Make sure that you are clear about what the question is really asking
  • Phrase questions in simple language

Avoid double negatives

Should we avoid not using double negatives? That is the question!

Ugh. What’s the answer?

Double negatives are confusing for everyone. No-one likes to write them and no-one likes to answer them and yet it’s the nature of the human brain to overcomplicate stuff.

If you haven’t heard of a double negative before, let me break it down for you.

  1. A positive question: “Should we use double negatives?”
  2. A negative question: “Should we avoid using double negatives?”
  3. A double negative question: “Should we not avoid using double negatives?”

It’s probable that your brain read question 1 and question 2 pretty easily. That’s because they require you to cope with a maximum of two changes in your perspective.

However, add another negative into the question and your brain begins to overheat.

Written a double negative? Think: what’s the positive form? Then take that positive and you’re likely to have a simple version of your double negative.

In our example above, question 3 and question 1 ask the same thing but question 1 does it in a simple way.

  • Avoid switching the logic of the question too frequently.
  • You can mix positive and negative statements
  • Just avoid a double negative

Give clear choices

One final problem that people run into with yes/no question asking is the labelling of the question responses.

In doopoll, we create Yes and No options for you be default. However, it’s really useful to elaborate on these very briefly.

For example, I recently used doopoll to ask my social media followers what they thought about a bill passing through Parliament at the moment.

The question I asked said: ‘Do you know about xyz?’

While a simple Yes and No would have done quite adequately, it helps a respondent to answer more efficiently if I set the tone to be an active one instead of a cold hard polemic.

Instead of just using Yes and No, I used:

  • Yes, I do know about it
  • No, I don’t know about it

— Uhh… What’s the difference?

Well, logically: no difference. But in terms of setting the tone, allowing a user to specify an answer with ‘I do’ or ‘I don’t’ allows for much quicker identification with the question.

Plus, you’re offering a different way for a user to answer. Not everyone identifies with a straight yes/no. Some people will respond more readily with a ‘I do’

So those are our three quick tips on how to ask a better yes/no question.

Did you not think it would be this difficult to not ask a straightforward yes/no question?