How to Deal With Unclear Answers

AuthorJohn Hollander
how to deal with unclear answers
chapter four
How to Deal With Unclear
   are poor questions, there are poor answers.
A poor answer is one that does not respond to the ques-
tion. In the earlier section, we considered what distin-
guishes a good question from a bad question. Now we
will consider what makes up a poor answer. e purpose
of the consideration is to devise a strategy to deal with it
when it occurs. Should the examiner:
• Leave the answer alone?
• Rephrase the question?
• Accept the answer and follow up with more ques-
• Insist on a responsive answer?
e choice of strategy revolves around a central issue.
If the initial question was worth the eort to ask it, the
examiner should insist upon an answer that deals with
the subject it raised. e examiner should then stay on
the subject until all relevant information is on the record.
Failure to follow this sequence exposes the examiner
to surprise at trial. e witness may exclaim, “Oh that’s
what you meant? Well, the answer is . . .
 
So long as your question was clear and unambiguous,
the examiner can argue that the witness is not answering
according to the rules. Many judges will still allow and
consider the new answer. at can really hurt the exam-
iner’s case.
is section considers various situations where the
witness has either dodged the question or answered in
a way that does not adequately respond to the question.
An answer should be useful, and vague answers are not
reliable. An examiner cannot depend on the answer re-
maining intact at trial. To avoid a surprise, the examiner
should identify all such answers and should eliminate
each one. Here is how to identify and remediate them.
Ambiguous Questions
   error of the examiner is the ambigu-
ous question. e most common of these are negative
questions and questions that contain the phrase “Do you
An examiner can pose a closed question positively or
negatively. A positive closed question asks for a fact or
opinion. A negative question asks for a denial of that fact
or opinion.
1: Did you see the red umbrella in that crowd?
2: You saw the red umbrella in the crowd, is that correct?
ese are examples of positive questions. e answer is
comprehensible, whether “yes” or “no.
3: You did not see the red umbrella in the crowd, did you?

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