May 16, 2017
Jeffrey T. Frederick, Ph.D.
So far in the Tips series, the focus has been on setting the stage for effective voir dire by (a) treating voir dire as a conversation with jurors (Tip 1); (b) using techniques that help jurors feel comfortable with speaking in court (Tip 2); and capitalizing on the initial hand-raising technique to encourage participation in the voir dire process (Tip 3). I turn now to the nature of the questions themselves, in particular open-ended versus closed-ended questions. While both of these formats have their place in a well-conducted voir dire, one format, open-ended questions, deserves special attention. Knowing how and when to use open-ended questions can vastly improve your effectiveness in jury selection. (Click here to see a short video for this tip.)
Open-Ended v. Close-Ended Questions
A major distinction in the phrasing of questions is whether the question is phrased in an open-ended versus closed-ended format. Open-ended questions are those questions that do not provide the answer within the question itself. These questions are often prefaced with phrases such as, “What do you think/feel/believe about . . .”; “Why?”; “In what way . . .”. These questions focus jurors’ attention on the topic, yet leave it to them to formulate an answer. The following are examples of the open-ended approach:
“How do you feel about patients bringing lawsuits against doctors over the treatment they received?”
“What would your impression be of defendants in criminal trials who do not testify in their own defense?”
“What is your opinion of the law that allows for money damages designed to punish a defendant?”