Empowering Inquiry: The Transformative Power of the Question Formulation Technique in Education

Empowering Inquiry through the Question Formulation Technique offers a transformative approach to education, enhancing student engagement and promoting critical thinking across diverse academic settings. By empowering students to ask their own questions, QFT cultivates a dynamic classroom atmosphere that encourages curiosity and active learning, ensuring every student can contribute meaningfully to their educational journey

Last reviewed May 07, 2024


The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is a pivotal innovation in educational strategies aimed at empowering students by enhancing their ability to formulate their own questions. This method is not merely an academic exercise but a critical skill fostering deep engagement, critical thinking, and creativity across all disciplines. It is significant for students from underserved communities, where such skills can dramatically shift educational and personal outcomes.

Historical Background and Development of QFT

Originating in the early 1980s within a Massachusetts dropout prevention program, QFT was first a tool to engage parents in their children’s education. Social workers discovered that these parents often felt disconnected from the educational process, not knowing what questions to ask. A significant increase in participation was noted by coaching them to identify and formulate relevant questions. The technique was soon adapted for student use, shifting the focus from teachers asking questions to students creating their own. This change led to remarkable improvements in student engagement, confidence, and academic success, particularly among those who previously felt marginalized by the traditional educational system.

Goals of QFT

The overarching goal of QFT is to equip students with the ability to develop and pose questions that facilitate their own learning and help them take ownership of their educational journey. The technique nurtures divergent thinking to spark creativity, convergent thinking to sharpen analytical skills, and metacognitive awareness to enhance understanding of one’s own thought processes. Additionally, QFT promotes what can be termed «micro-democracy» in classrooms, encouraging students to voice their thoughts in small groups, which translates to more significant democratic engagement in broader societal contexts.

Theoretical Framework

Research supporting the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) demonstrates its significant impact on education. For instance, LeBlanc et al. (2017) presented findings at the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference showing that QFT not only stimulates curiosity but also enhances students’ abilities to formulate critical, technical questions, thereby transforming them from passive listeners to active, engaged learners. Further reinforcing these foundational theories, publications from the Right Question Institute and the book «Make Just One Change» by Rothstein and Santana (2011) underscore the broad impacts of QFT on learning dynamics. Additionally, Santana (2015) explores the application of QFT within low-income communities, highlighting its adaptability and relevance across diverse educational settings.

The efficacy of QFT extends beyond traditional academic environments. For example, Dah et al. highlight how QFT is utilized in educational contexts to refine students’ question-formulation skills and foster curiosity. Similarly, the Cultural Formulation Interview (CFI), as discussed by Jensen-Vallin (2017), applies question formulation techniques to gather nuanced information about patients’ cultural contexts and illness experiences, indicating the versatility of these methods. Empirical evidence from Ho & Lim (2021) and Lewis-Fernández et al. (2020) further supports that question formulation techniques significantly enhance student engagement and learning outcomes by promoting critical thinking and curiosity. These findings collectively suggest that QFT and similar methodologies can effectively meet the needs of diverse student populations and enrich their educational experiences.

Implementation of QFT

Implementing QFT involves a structured yet flexible seven-step process. Starting with a «QFocus» or a prompt, students are guided through brainstorming questions without judgment or immediate answers. They then categorize, refine, and prioritize these questions to deepen their understanding and apply them to various educational tasks. This methodology is adaptable to different academic levels and can be integrated into any subject, enhancing the relevance and depth of student learning.

Challenges in Applying QFT

While the benefits of QFT are significant, educators may face challenges such as crafting an effective QFocus that sparks thoughtful inquiry without bias. Additionally, students new to this method might initially resist an unfamiliar process perceived as busywork. However, these challenges can be navigated through careful planning and reflective practice, ultimately leading to a more engaging and inclusive learning environment.

Examples of QFT in Action

The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is valuable for developing research questions, particularly in graduate research (Korman et al., 2013; Mannion, 2019). It involves a structured approach to identifying topics, critically analyzing underlying questions, defining research problems, and determining data sources (Byrd & Camba, 2020). The QFT aids in scaffolding the research process for students, guiding them through incremental stages to enhance their question formulation skills (Eldredge et al., 2021). Additionally, the QFT is effective in eliciting classroom discussions, enhancing mathematical creativity, and fostering problem-solving abilities (Ratan et al., 2019). By utilizing the QFT, graduate students can systematically refine their research questions, ensuring they are feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, relevant, manageable, appropriate, and valuable for potential publication.


The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) transcends its role as a mere educational strategy, emerging as a transformative force in traditional and non-traditional learning environments. Its proven effectiveness in enhancing students’ critical and creative thinking skills underscores its potential to revolutionize educational practices. By empowering students to actively shape their learning through question formulation, QFT fosters a more profound, more engaged learning experience. This method supports academic achievement and cultivates a classroom culture that values every student’s voice and curiosity, making education more inclusive and accessible. As QFT continues to be adapted across various disciplines and contexts, its capacity to nurture an inquiry-driven culture promises to significantly enrich the educational landscape, encouraging educators and students alike to embrace the power of questioning as a cornerstone of lifelong learning.


Byrd, V. L., & Camba, J. D. (2020). A Worksheet Method for Developing Research Questions: An Examination of Three Graduate Student Cohorts. 2020 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1109/FIE44824.2020.9273883

Eldredge, J., Schiff, M. A., Langsjoen, J. O., & Jerabek, R. N. (2021). Question formulation skills training using a novel rubric with first-year medical students. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 109(1), Article 1. https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2021.935

Ho, Y. Y., & Lim, L. (2021). Targeting student learning needs: The development and preliminary validation of the Learning Needs Questionnaire for a diverse university student population. Higher Education Research & Development, 40(7), 1452–1465. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1818062

Jensen-Vallin, J. (2017). Teaching Students to Formulate Questions. PRIMUS, 27(2), 189–201. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511970.2016.1192073

Korman, H., Bavelas, J. B., & De Jong, P. (2013). Microanalysis of Formulations in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Motivational Interviewing. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 32(3), 31–45. https://doi.org/10.1521/jsyt.2013.32.3.31

LeBlanc, H. J., Nepal, K., & Mowry, G. S. (2017). Stimulating curiosity and the ability to formulate technical questions in an electric circuits course using the question formulation technique (QFT). 2017 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1109/FIE.2017.8190460

Lewis-Fernández, R., Aggarwal, N. K., & Kirmayer, L. J. (2020). The Cultural Formulation Interview: Progress to date and future directions. Transcultural Psychiatry, 57(4), 487–496. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363461520938273

Mannion, J. (2019). The effectiveness of the question formulation technique on open-ended, written response questions in mathematics. Theses and Dissertations. https://rdw.rowan.edu/etd/2673

Ratan, S. K., Anand, T., & Ratan, J. (2019). Formulation of Research Question – Stepwise Approach. Journal of Indian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, 24(1), 15. https://doi.org/10.4103/jiaps.JIAPS_76_18

Rothstein, D., Santana, L., & Puriefoy, W. D. (2011). Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Harvard Education Press.

Santana, L. (2015). Learning to Ask Questions: A Pathway To and Through College for Students in Low-Income Communities. About Campus, 20(4), 26–29. https://doi.org/10.1002/abc.21203