Questioning for Greater Depth
After you have used brainstorming, clustering, or free writing to find ideas for writing, you may need to gather more details. Two in-depth prewriting techniques, questioning and changing viewpoints, can help you discover details you already know about your subject.
The Six Basic Questions
The basic set of who? what? why? when? where? and how? questions can help you discover information about many subjects. For example, suppose you are given an assignment to write about safety in your home. To discover what you already know about this subject, ask yourself these basic questions:
• Who is responsible for making sure my house or apartment is a safe place to live?
• What can I do to make sure my house or apartment is a safe place to live?
• Why should I be concerned about safety when there are police and fire departments nearby in case something happens?
• When is the best time to check areas of the house or apartment for potential dangers?
• Where in my house or apartment are accidents most likely to occur?
• How can I tell if there is an unsafe condition in my home?
With these basic questions, you discover what you already know about your subject. Here are one writer’s answers:
• I am responsible, since I want to live safely, but each person in my family should be responsible also.
• I can make sure I don’t touch an electrical appliance while taking a shower or bath or while washing my hands in the sink. I can use knives and scissors carefully and put them away when I’m through. I can be certain that medicine bottles have tops my younger brothers and sisters can’t open and that dangerous products such as drain cleaners are kept out of their reach. I can check to see if stored papers might be a fire hazard.
• Fires and explosions happen so fast sometimes that I might not be able to escape or get to the phone to call help. Slipping and falling might make me or someone in my family unconscious and helpless.
• Any time is a good time to be alert for dangers in my house or apartment. Maybe a routine check once a month would be a good idea.
• Accidents can happen anywhere—in the bathroom, kitchen, stairway, basement, bedroom. Probably the worst places are the bathroom and kitchen.
• Sometimes, I can tell there might be a danger, such as that loose rug in the hallway I keep slipping on. I probably should get some information about what to do to make my home a safer place, however.
When you use questions such as these, remember there is often more than one answer to each one. Think about each question for several minutes before moving on to the next, since the more information you can gather, the better your paper is likely to be. Also, use the questions to find out what you do not know but need to read about or research before beginning your paper.