Interviewing skills are not the domain only of reporters, police officers, or job recruiters. The ability to ask good questions is important for all business professionals, because the quality of the answers will depend on the questions.

We ask questions every day without realizing it. We ask spontaneous questions that pour out naturally: Have you seen Kim? How are you? What’s for lunch? But in the performance of our daily jobs, we need to ask questions that produce substantive facts, explanatory details, and background information that will help a reader do her job. Yet, people often discover an hour before a deadline that they are missing key information, because they didn’t ask the right questions.

So here are a few suggestions to consider before you hastily reach for your phone to call someone:

Prepare for the conversation – Know ahead of time what you need to learn, so that you don’t hang up and then realize three things you forgot to ask. Consider writing down the questions, because seeing them on the screen or paper might trigger additional questions. Your brain thinks by association, so seeing a question might cause it to think of a related one.

Ask focused questions — Specific questions questions will limit the scope of the response, thereby avoiding a long, winding, answer that drifts off topic. Focused questions help you filter out what’s important from what’s not.

Ask follow-up questions – Always be prepared to ask for clarification or additional details. Why is that important? Can you explain how that works? What will happen if you don’t succeed? Ending the conversation with vague or incomplete information will leave you in the dark, and will leave you unable to explain the issue to someone else.

Don’t be afraid to ask – People often are afraid to ask something, because they think it will be a stupid question, but that’s rarely the case. Instead, the person you’re talking to will appreciate your attempt to gather accurate information and to clearly understand the issue. Be comfortable asking any reasonable question.

The ability to ask good questions also can strengthen your credibility in a meeting. People who ask thought-provoking questions that no one else has thought of — Has anyone considered this option … ? — is likely to get noticed.