Writing ResourcesAsking Questions About a Subject

Asking questions is a form of prewriting that allows you to:

  • ask questions to develop a perspective on a subject that you think you want to write about.
  • narrow a subject that you already have chosen.
  • determine whether it's feasible to pursue your chosen subject, especially if you're doing a research paper.

Ask Questions to Develop a Perspective on a Subject

Ask the journalist's "who," "what," "when," "where," "why" and "how" in order to:

  •  get a sense of the subject's scope
  • determine how you may want to approach the subject ( the angle that makes sense for you to take when thinking about the subject)

Ask Questions to Narrow a Subject

Ask questions about your subject and use the answer to activate another question until you come to a question that is a good stopping place (a focused question that you know you can research, or a focused question that you can answer on your own with examples and details).

For example:

Subject: Education

Possible QuestionsPossible Answers
Education in what country? the U.S.
What level of U.S. education? education for children
What level of childhood education? Head Start
What do I want to know about it? special programs
Any particular programs? reading readiness
How effective are Head Start (and so on...)
or reading readiness programs? (and so on...)


Subject: Education

Possible QuestionsPossible Answers

Education for whom?

college students

What type of college student?

adult, returning student

What problems do adult returning students face?

(and so on...)

As you develop a "chain," using each answer to generate another question, your subject both narrows in scope and becomes more complex, which is more appropriate for a college-level essay which requires some depth of thought.

Once you have a few subjects that you think might be appropriate for further development into essays or research papers, ask questions to determine each subject's feasibility:

  • What exactly do I know about the subject?
  • Where did I get my knowledge (first-hand experience, books, television, newspapers, discussions with others, etc.)?
  • Will my knowledge yield sufficient examples and details for me to write in some depth about this subject, or will I have to do some additional research? That is, if I want to write about this subject, what else do I need to know?
  • Where can I find additional information if I need more? Books? Magazines? Journals? Interviews with co-workers or family members? Personal observations?
  • Are these information sources readily available to me?

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