Module 2: Clarifying Questions

How to Move the Interview Along After the Open Questions

Getting the Details

After paraphrasing and asking open-ended questions to find the patron’s true information need, you may need to clarify particular bits of information.

Also, use questions to refine the search query, such as:

  • What have you already found?
  • Do you need books, articles, or websites?
  • Do you need current or historical information?

Example: Clarifying

You and the patron have worked together through paraphrasing and open-ended questions to determine they need pictures of Nevada for a school presentation. Now, you need to get some clarifying details to determine exactly what kind of pictures are needed.

Clarifying questions in this instance might include:

  • Do you need photos or are drawings okay?
  • Do you need specific landmarks or time periods?
  • Do you need the photos in black and white or color?
  • Do you need these printed or in a digital format? If digital, which format works best for you?

Clarifying Questions in Virtual Reference

Clarifying questions are also part of the reference interview during virtual reference sessions. They may be even more vital in this situation, because you want to be sure that you are understanding the patron clearly and giving the patron exactly what is needed.

Major Point: Clarifying may be necessary at some point in the reference interview to clear up specific aspects of a patron’s request.


How would you clarify the patron’s request in the following examples?

  1. Do you have sex education movies for kids?
  2. Can I get an article?
  3. Where are the books for the fourth graders?