Artemis Takes Aim

Neutral questions

Concept from the work of Brenda Dervin and Patricia Dewdney, described in the paper's abstract as "a strategy for query negotiation, based on a sense-making approach, which enables librarians to understand queries from users' viewpoint." Neutral questions are a subset of Open Questions, as they require more than one or two word answers but differ in that they do not reveal bias toward a correct or acceptable answer.


Neutral questions are used during Reference Interviews to help assess how the user sees his or her situation, any gaps in the information he or she may have, as well as the kind of help wanted by the user. These questions are meant to help find the desired information without making assumptions about the user's needs. The opposite of a neutral question is a leading question.


Examples of Neutral Questions


  1. What would you like to know about X?
  2. Where would you like to begin with this topic?
  3. What sort of information would help you most?



Dervin, Brenda L. and Patricia Dewdney. (1986). Neutral Questioning: A New Approach to the Reference Interview. Reference Quarterly, 25(4), 506-513.


Richardson Jr., John. (2006). Open Vs. Closed Ended Questions in the Reference Environment. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from


Audra L. Eagle



Diana L. Ascher, PhD, MBA, is a principal at Stratelligence and a co-founder of the Information Ethics & Equity Institute. Her lifelong interest in knowledge and decision making has focused on the evaluation, classification, organization, communication, and interpretation of information, and motivates her work in the fields of behavioral science, finance, higher education, information studies, journalism, law, leadership, management, medicine, and policy. She brings more than two decades of experience as a writer, editor, media director, and information strategist to her work.

DianaNeutral questions