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Asking Questions in the Right Way

A good tester is a skeptic. What can we be certain of? Without proof, nothing. We test to prove that an application works. We might think or speak of it as "assuring the quality of the application," but truly what we’re doing is seeking proof. To me, there’s nothing negative about doubting, or about requiring proof that something works. It’s not pessimistic to believe that without proof we cannot be certain that anything works.

However, the tone of the tester’s questions is important, because asking many questions at once can be alarming to the recipient. In some dynamics, extensive questioning can sound like you doubt that person, or doubt that he or she is building solid coding (which may indeed be the case). Consider your phrasing and your tone of voice when you ask your questions. You’re asking questions to seek knowledge about the application being tested; make sure that the person you’re asking doesn’t feel like she’s being interrogated.

Tone matters when you ask questions. So does timing and location. When do you want to ask your questions? In what setting? At what point in the product cycle? If you approach someone who’s especially busy in the "product crunch," the answers you get may be shallow. Although you may be anxious to get answers, waiting and arranging for time with someone on your team might be more beneficial.

If you’re asking questions of very busy people, always have that next question ready in your mind. Look for opportunities in elevators, while getting coffee—wherever you can casually squeeze in one more question.

As much as possible, get to know the people you’re questions. Is he more talkative in the morning or the afternoon? Are particular days of the week especially busy? When you’re ready with your questions, choose a day and time that are more conducive to getting answers.

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