The Art of Asking Good Questions

By Deane Barker on January 2, 2012

How to Ask a Smart Question: I absolutely loved this article that dissects the art of asking a good question.  It groups questions into “levels” of depth, and categorizes them.

For instance, Level One includes Definitions and Clarifications like:

  • How do you define X?
  • What does X mean?

Also in Level One are Contextuals and Analyzers.  In Level Two, we find things like Comparatives:

  • How is X like Y?

And Causals:

  • What caused X to happen?

In Level Three, we find advanced questions like Counterfactuals:

  • How things be different if X happened (or did not happen)?

This is just one part of a very well-written article that really digs down into the anatomy of a question and figures out what makes a good one, and what type and phrasing of a question will give you the most bang for the buck.  Essentially, if you encountered your intellectual idol, and were only able to ask them X number of questions about a specific topic, this would help you form those questions in such a way that you got the most benefit.

It absolutely mirrors how I approach learning something new – working my way down through deeper and deeper levels of questions, getting more and more abstract.

The art of asking good questions is becoming more and more ignored as it becomes easier to ask them.  These days you can toss a question out on the Net and have thousands of people see it.  That means more people who might understand it (not matter how poorly you word it), might take pity on you, or might want to just shut you up.  Because of this, there’s less and less reason to really want to learn how to ask questions well.

If you also like this sort of thing, open-source guru Eric Raymond has written a similar guide more geared towards Usenet back in the day: How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

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