By Kristen Plylar-Moore, LEC Writing Specialist
Albert Einstein is attributed with saying, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend fifty-five minutes understanding the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”
To succeed in the classroom, thrive in the workplace—or even save the planet—one needs to have a full understanding of a situation in order to make the best possible decisions. And an essential tool in that process is the act of asking questions.
Questions are a Tool for the Classroom and Workplace
As a student, questions can help you better understand classroom materials. They can guide your research and focus your writing. They can help you communicate with your professor.
As an employee or an employer, questions can steer you away from making quick assumptions and toward identifying problems. Then, when you create new initiatives to solve problems, questions can help you get multiple perspectives on the issue from your colleagues. This will make buy-in from your colleagues more likely, and will lead to a more successful implementation of the project.
How to Ask Good Questions
Whether you’re in the classroom or in the workplace, keep in mind a few suggestions when constructing a question. Sometimes you might be looking for a simple yes-or-no answer. But if you’re looking for more detailed explanations, your questions are likely to begin with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” or “how.”
For example, consider the following assignment, which students in our healthcare programs sometimes have to do: “Discuss a serious health problem that doesn’t get enough attention.”
This is a large topic, and it can be difficult to figure out where to begin. Reframing it as a series of questions can simplify it:
What are some serious health problems?
What serious health problems don’t get enough attention?
How do I know determine whether it gets enough attention?
Who does this health problem affect?
Where is the problem most prevalent?
When did the problem begin?
Why is this an important problem to solve?
Notice that the questions are short and specific, which allows you to do more targeted research. And as you find answers to one question, the new information might lead you to ask more questions. It’s a great model for developing questions.
Questions Are Enlightening
For most problems, there are often multiple possible answers. If we jump to conclusions about how to address an issue, if we don’t evaluate it thoroughly, we might not end up with the best solution. To arrive at better answers, ones that will result in a strong Constructive Action or a successful project at work, invest time in the process of crafting questions. As playwright Eugene Ionesco said, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”