Asking Questions

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.

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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 Questions Possible 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 Questions Possible 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?

(this page’s text © Empire State College)