7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Ask Your Readers Questions

Questions don’t work in isolation: they work in context.

You need to pay as much (if not more) attention to the framework for your question as you do the question itself.

Here are 7 things to think about before you add your questions to the bottom of the page:

#1 Have you left room for your readers to add value?

People like to be helpful, to feel as though they’re adding something. If a post is beautifully polished and constructed it doesn’t leave much room for your reader to add anything in, even if they want to. Thinking about the space you’re leaving for your readers can make a big difference to the way you write, and the way you ask questions.

# 2 How much work do people need to do in order to answer?

Take a quick flick through your post. Are you hoping your readers will invest time reading a long article of yours, or some links you’re pointing them to elsewhere?

If your readers feel they need to ‘work’ in order to answer your question you’re less likely to get a response. (Of course you might want to get them to do the work anyway for a particular teaching reason… but that would be linked to a different purpose)

# 3 Who will be able to answer your question?

Again: take a look at your post. Are you assuming that people will have specialised knowledge or use a particular trade jargon? Do they need to have read a particular book or watched a particular film? Perhaps you’re talking about quite a specific incident or experience: this might make it hard for them to answer. Could you make it more general in order to include a wider number of people in the response?

This is also a good point to check how easy it is to comment: if there are barriers (like captcha) can you get rid of them? The sky probably won’t fall in as a result.

# 4 How can you make it easier for people to answer your question?

Unless you’re an exceptionally gifted teacher, writer or coach people will prefer the easy way round. If you’re looking for more conversation, if you’re looking for people to be able to answer your question (and if not, why ask?), look for ways to make it as easy as possible.

Try making the post / question less specific, more universal. Reduce the amount of extra reading or link clicking your reader needs to do. Remove technical barriers to leaving a comment. Use plain English, as plain as you can, and the plainer the better!

# 5 What will you do with the responses you get?

Think about what you’re going to do with the responses. Will you respond to each and everyone in the comment box - with care and attention? Will you listen closely to what your readers are replying?

How will you thank or reward people who take the time to answer your questions. (For example you can highlight answers in round up posts - I do this a lot - it shares some link love…though of course it might scare some people off!)

There are other less visible things you can do with the responses: you might learn from them, frame new posts from them, thicken and develop your blog as a consequence. How you answer this question will relate to your intention, and that intention will change the way you ask the question. It will also change the kind of answers you get.

# 6 What’s the positive intention behind your question?

Don’t stick with the answer “to get more comments”. What will “getting more comments” allow you to do? How will it help you to learn, to write, to teach, to inspire, to connect, to help others with marketing, to provide career advice, to show people how beautiful your country is, to make the world a little more human…?

Find the positive.

Find the purpose that goes beyond you and your blog. It’ll help the words to flow.

# 7 What will your readers get from answering your question?

This is probably my killer question for you. Switch your focus from your need to ask a question and “get” comments.

Think about your reader. Focus on them.

What difference will your question make to them? How can you phrase the question to help them tap into positive resources, see things in a new light, awaken happy memories, share their expertise, enjoy talking story with you?


    • June 13, 2008

    Joanna, thank you for these most helpful tips! I just Stumbled this post. You are right about #7 - a tough question but probably the most important. I’m going to try to keep it in mind from now on.

    • June 13, 2008

    Going to be thinking about this series for a long time, Joanna - great work! Now I have to figure out how to incorporate your advice and conclusions… (sound of gears grinding)

    • June 13, 2008

    Hi Joanna

    I take it as a given that I’m going to find helpful information here. This post was probably one of the best yet in terms of thinking about blogging with a purpose.

    Brad hit it on the head - point 7 seems like the most important. And Robert is right, too. This is something to come back to. I’m off to bookmark it on Delicious.

    They’re going to get their money’s worth from you in Sardinia.

    Thanks again

    • June 13, 2008

    Hi Joanna,

    Wow! This was very insightful and really has me thinking about my approach. After reading, I know I need to sit with this and think thorough all 7 questions. You and Seth Godin, so good at making me dig deeper! :-)


    • June 13, 2008

    Your Compensated-for Weakness: Now Look Inside

    What weaknesses do you feel you have? How have you learned to compensate for them? Is there any chance your compensation has been limiting you? Choose just one weakness, and see if your experience is at all similar to one

  1. Hello friends, what a wonderful set of responses to come back to after a long day out.

    Brad, thanks for the stumble :-) 7 is a toughie, but worth thinking through. Don’t discount being friendly, chewing the fat, talking story though… we all like doing that

    Robert, interesting things always come out when those gears grind… and I can see from today’s post that you’re stretching and testing the boundaries - great stuff

    Emma, thanks for that feedback. It means a lot. And for the bookmark. I’ll teach you stumbling next week:-)

    Karen, you always know how to say the things that make me purr with delight! Thanks :-)


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