Query planning worksheet (plus style tips)

Joellen Easton -

This worksheet helps you structure planning a query.  The worksheet has nicer formatting in the attached PDF file.

1. Planning – answer these questions 

Peg: The time-based reason for doing this query


Question: What's the core question?


Goal (home run): Consider what a reporter asks for to be 80% of the query's potential.  What would 100% be?  What questions should you ask to get to 100%?


Network goal/target audience: How will this query deepen the PIN?  What’s the group of people that you're going after?  Where will you find and how will you connect with this audience? 


Audience mindset: What’s the frame of mind of these people?


Message: What phrases and words will help your question resonate with this audience?




Uses: How can you imagine sources who respond being used in your programming?


2. Drafting – use this to begin sketching out the contents of the query

Query pitch: What will your message be to the reader of your blog post/article/email/newsletter pitch to respond to the query?






Query headline/title: Every form needs a title -- phrased as a question



Query questions: What questions will you ask in the query?  (Remember: Sorting questions, open-ended questions, questions about change)


3. Layout – Mock up the query pitch and form on a separate page

Tips for creating a query form

  • Require only the basics.  You have the option to require certain fields.  Only require fields that MUST be answered.  (Name, location, email, phone, etc.)  Otherwise, you risk losing people who don’t feel comfortable responding to other required questions.


  • Ask for info that will help you later on.  Personal facts that are relevant to the query at hand will help you search for people later on.  Always keep future uses in mind, not just the immediate story.


  • Structure the survey with an eye to sorting.  Ask questions that will help you quickly understand the person’s perspective or experience or expertise.  This will help you sort responses quickly. 


  • Try to start with the specific.  In general, go from the very particular to the very general.  This will help lead the source through a thought process, with luck, bringing them to insight that has news value.


  • Keep it short.  Too many questions will lead to attrition: you could discourage the impatient-but-insightful type.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule, though.  Long, specific queries can be successful in the right situation.


  • Structured, or open-ended?  Open-ended questions yield the most insightful responses.  Often check-boxes or drop-down menus are helpful at the beginning of the survey, but if you want to be surprised, give people the space to surprise you.


  • Don’t prejudice the response.  Make sure you phrase your questions so that people with various takes on the issue will feel comfortable responding.  If you assume that people think like you, you may cut out those who think differently.  Test the form on one of your more skeptical colleagues before launching it.


  • Make the tent big, but not too big.  Chances are you’ll want to hear from a variety of people.  The questions should make sense to every group, but shouldn’t be so general as to encourage generic responses.


  • Focus on change .  We’re looking for knowledge, not opinions.  Knowledge often surfaces as a change in behavior.  Questions about decision-making, cost/benefit analyses, if-you-knew-then-what-you-do-now, and what changes did you make when X happened? can yield insightful responses.


  • What else should we know about this issue?  This should always be the last question you ask.


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