Pulling out questions in your writing

Reading time: About one minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the internet to help other writers. Today I examine a new app that isolates questions in your writing…

What role do questions play in your writing?

Do they make it better or worse? More interesting or more tedious?

See what I did there? I began this post with four questions. I’m writing this way in recognition of a new piece of software that writer and journalist Clive Thompson has created to extract only the questions from any article or post. If you want to give it a try, go to Only the questions.

Here, for example, are the questions from a recent post (which you can see in full here):

Do you find yourself ignoring the writing you need to be doing? Or avoiding thinking about what went wrong in the past? Why? Why?

I was intrigued to find there were only four of them. (In roughly 800 words). I was expecting at least double that number, because I’ve always seen myself as someone who likes to ask a lot of questions. And it amused me to see two “whys” back to back, like a pair of particularly impatient toddlers.

In examining the findings from his own software, Thompson made these two observations:

  • …fiction often doesn’t produce interesting results. That’s because dialogue often includes questions, and you get too many of them in a row, so now you’re just reading dialogue. In contrast …
  • … essays, memoirs, speeches and personal writing often work really well. In those forms, the writer is speaking directly to the audience, and the questions have a really personal appeal: They’re directed straight at you, the reader, so they have a particularly electrical charge. When you see them all lined up, you get an intriguing glimpse into the author’s intellectual focus.”

Is it time to ask yourself some pointed questions about your own questions?

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