Note to self: Stop asking either-or questions

In spite of over two decades of experience against asking either-or questions, I have a hard time giving them up:

Excerpt of two emails – one where I ask the support an either-or question consisting of three alternatives – one where the support answers "That’s correct" but doesn’t specify which of the three alternatives it confirms.

This is a Photoshopped translation, see the Swedish blog post for the original picture.

Either-or questions are convenient for me as the asking person since I can set the scope of the question. They are also seemingly convenient for the respondent, who can simply choose one of usually two alternatives.

However, the assumption that the respondent only has two alternatives is a mirage: An either-or question typically consists of two statements – both of which can be answered with yes/no – so there are really four possible answers:

  1. Yes to the first statement
  2. No to the first statement
  3. Yes to the second statement
  4. No to the second statement

…and few people bother specifying which of the statements they are answering – it is, after all, ovbious (to them).

So to save myself a bit of headache I had better skip the either-or questions and go for yes/no questions or open-ended questions (“How/What/When/Who?”) instead.

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