Module 2: Follow-Up Questions

Follow-up Questions, Ending the Interview

Follow-up questions ensure that you’ve gotten the patron exactly what they needed

When You Think You’re Done:

After you think you have answered a patron’s question, always ask a follow-up question, such as:

  • “Does this completely answer your question?”
  • “Do you have everything you need?”
  • “Is there anything else I can help you find?”

Doing this crucial step will improve your success rate in filling patrons’ information needs. Follow-up questions ensure that you have really provided what the patron wanted, and invites the patron to extend the reference transaction if need be.

Ending the Interview

  • If the answer to your follow-up question indicates the patron is satisfied,
    • Congratulations! You can be confident you have fulfilled their need. Thank the patron for their question and prepare for your next session.
  • If the answer to your follow-up question indicates the patron is NOT satisfied,
    • Option 1: Clarify what is missing and see if it can be found.
    • Option 2: Offer to continue working on the question and contact the patron later.
    • Option 3: Offer a Referral. (See Module 4 for more information.)
    • Option 4: Inform the patron that you have exhausted all available resources.

Follow-Up and Ending the Interview in Virtual Reference

The Virtual Reference Desk Project¹ recommends these follow-up procedures as part of quality digital reference:

  1. Capture important information such as the user’s age or grade level, other sources checked, and contact information through web-based query forms or other interactive communication tools, without compromising user privacy.
  2. Provide opportunities for clarification of user questions through follow-up email messages or conversations using interactive communications tools.
  3. Incorporate a follow-up method, such as assigning tracking numbers to questions, in order to identify related messages.
  4. Offer real-time reference interviews or very thorough web forms to gather as much information as possible without compromising user privacy.
  5. Allow users the ability to return to a service for further information to clarify a question if the answer is insufficient within the policy guidelines of each service.
  6. Link related question-answer sets using a common protocol to identify related messages to facilitate follow-up.

[1. A. Kasowitz, B. Bennett, R.D. Lankes, Quality Standards for Digital Reference Consortia, Reference & User Services Quarterly, vol. 39, no. 4, Summer 2000, pp. 355-63.]

Major Point: The only way to be sure you’ve met the need is to ask.


  1. In addition to the examples given, think of at least two more ways to say “do you have everything you need?” that you would be comfortable using as a follow-up question at the end of a reference interview.
  2. What is the purpose of follow-up questions?