Clarifying is a technique you can use when you are further along in the reference interview. Remember: you begin the interview with paraphrasing and open-ended questions. But you may need to clarify a point by using a closed question when you ask for a particular bit of information.

Cartoon of "Clear" button from a keyboard.

For example, you have discovered that the patron wants population statistics for a neighboring state. Before you proceed, you need to find out if they need only the most recent figures or statistics from previous years. Do they need the population of the entire state or for a select group? You can get to that information most effectively by using a clarifying question specifically asking for a particular bit of information.

Remember to use clarifying questions later in the reference interview process and only when needed to nail down a particular point.

Examples of clarifying questions:

  1. The latest statistic here is 2000. Is that current enough or do you need more recent estimates?
  2. Do you need the addresses of computer manufacturers for personal computers or all computers?
  3. Would you prefer the opera on an audio cassette, compact disc, or video?
  4. Does that picture need to be in color or will black and white do?


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