In Isaac Asimov’s short story “The Last Question,” a question from a simple wager is asked through billions of years, culminating in a somewhat satisfying, but ultimately ambiguous, conclusion. In this story (reportedly Asimov’s favorite) the question was how to reverse the imminent heat death of the universe.

Questions, arguably, drive the bulk of human daily interaction, especially open-ended questions that provide insight into another’s motivation and experiences. As writing is merely a medium of communication, framing the right questions is important not only to create content that answers a reader’s questions, but also to stimulate discussion and sharing.

Finding the Right Question

Voltaire, the celebrated French Enlightenment writer and philosopher, said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” Or to put it simply, “It’s not about finding the right answer, but asking the right question.”

voltaire

In writing, asking the right questions go beyond simply answering the 5 Ws and 1 H, such as in a news format. To discover anything of value, and to arrive at the answers we want, we should ask the right questions.

A provocative question raises even more questions and gives the inquirer awareness and greater understanding of the topic. Scientists and philosophers even use these questions to create thought experiments, which are hypotheses that explore the consequences of a certain circumstance. Famous questions raised by such thought experiments include “Would a cat die in a box?” (Schrödinger’s Cat) or “Does a machine actually learn human language?” (Chinese Room).

question marks

Ask First, Shoot Later

While we seldom pose questions like this when writing web content, our goal is always to ask whether our piece answers a question; anything that doesn’t is useless. For example, does this paragraph answer a reader’s question or concern? Or, in general, is this topic worth sharing? Would people discuss it over a Starbucks coffee, a train ride, a lunch out? Is this article even publish-worthy?

Good content is a summation of answers, but it should also pose a question to the reader. Instead of droning on about facts, invite the reader to participate. Instead of a lecture, frame it as a discussion.  This is why, in PayPerContent, we ask our writers to write through the second-person perspective, which allows interaction with the reader.

“Let There Be Light!”

Questions are the most telling feature of curiosity, and curiosity advances human knowledge. Most scientific discoveries are framed by posing the right questions (see Archimedes’ Eureka and Newton’s Apple), and up to now, science is still asking some questions. Of these, consciousness is one of the most important (of prime importance to artificial intelligence and computing) followed by what happens after death (medical field), and the Ship of Theseus (in cybernetics).

The Last Question, asked at the very end of the cosmos, was finally answered in the eternal limbo where time and space do not exist. And, with that right question, it led, of course to the right answer:

“The consciousness of AC encompassed all of what had once been a Universe and brooded over what was now Chaos. Step by step, it must be done.

“And AC said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!”

“And there was light—-”