Indirect Requests for Information

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When you start a new position, there’s a lot to learn.  You need to ask your supervisor, trainer, and coworkers many questions in the beginning so you can do your job well.

Look at these 2 requests for information – if you are asking someone you don’t know well, which one is better?

1.  “Where’s the paper for the photocopier?”

2.  “Could you tell me where the paper for the photocopier is?”

Both requests are for the same thing – paper – but  it’s better to ask someone you don’t know well using the second request.  The first request is direct.  The second request is indirect, so it’s more polite.

What are the differences between direct and indirect requests for information?

Direct Requests Are:

  • shorter
  • don’t have a modal
  • simple sentences
  • verb + subject order:  Where IS (verb) THE PAPER (subject)?
  • more casual

Indirect Requests Are:

  • longer
  • have a modal (can, could, would)
  • complex sentences
  • subject + verb order:  Could you tell me where THE PAPER (subject) IS (verb)?
  • more polite

At first, you won’t know many people at your new job, so to be more polite, you can ask for information indirectly.  Once you feel comfortable with your coworkers, you can ask in a more direct way.

Here are some phrases for indirect requests for information:

  • Can you tell me…?
  • Could you tell me…?
  • Would you tell me…?
  • Do you know…
  • I’d like to know…
  • Would you mind telling me…?
  • Please tell me…

Practice direct and indirect requests for information with these examples:

  • When is the staff meeting? / Please tell me when the staff meeting is.
  • How do I submit my timesheet? / Do you know how I submit my timesheet?
  • Where is the lunchroom? / Could you tell me where the lunchroom is?
  • What time is the report due? / I’d like to know what time the report is due.
  • Who should I ask if I have questions? / Would you mind telling me who I should ask if I have questions?

For more practice, think of other situations when you need to ask for information indirectly, like asking a stranger for directions to the mall, and request the information politely.

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