How To Ask Purposeful Questions: Introducing a 3 Part Series

by Joanna on June 10, 2008

“The important thing is not to stop questioning” (Albert Einstein)

Asking questions is seen as an important part of a blog writers’ toolbox. You’ll find plenty of advice ‘out there’ on asking questions as part of a strategy to generate comments and conversation. You’ll also find lots of posts that finish by asking a question to get the conversational ball rolling.

The Blogging Benefits Of Questions

There are well documented blog benefits to asking questions. By that I mean, benefits that will help you to achieve some of your blog related goals. Questions can help you:

  • generate more comments
  • start a conversation going
  • engage with your readers
  • find out more about your readers (and then delight them )
  • add an additional dimension to your content

But is there more to it than that? What is it about some questions that leaves us thinking so hard about them afterwards? What makes readers respond to some questions… and ignore others completely?

Are there things you can change about the way you ask questions that will change the kind of response that you get?

And what other benefits might there be in asking questions…? That have nothing to do with proving your skill as a blogger.

Asking Questions With A Purpose

I think purpose is the key to unlocking these questions and I’ll be explaining why (and how) over the next few days. I was really pleased to be asked to write something on questions as I was leading into the ‘purpose’ theme because it provides just the right framework for exploring the issue in a bit of depth.

Hence the 3 part series. (By the way I couldn’t decide if it was 3 or 4 parts. It’s 4 if I include this intro… but the intro is leading to the 3 parts. What do you think?!) [UPDATE: I've added another one in, so it's now a 5 parter]

Over the next few days I’m going to cover:

  1. Creating The Space To Ask Questions: making room for your readers
  2. The Purpose That’s Driving Your Question: how purpose changes your questions
  3. Asking Questions For A Change: how to frame questions that lead to positive change
  4. 7 Killer Questions: 7 questions to ask yourself before you ask your readers questions

I’m not promising to have all the answers here: I’m still learning myself about which kind of questions will work (and which ones won’t) but I think the series will get you thinking about when, how and why you ask your readers questions.

Linked articles:

One Simple Way To Generate More Comments On Your Blog: Copyblogger

Getting To Know Your Audience: ChrisG

5 Ways To Get The Opinions Of Others And Add Dimensions To Your Blogs: Problogger

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach

Because our words count

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Hruzek 06.10.08 at 3:29 pm

This sounds like a very timely subject for me, since I’ve recently just started a new segment at the end of (most of) my posts called “Tell me a Story”. Hopefully one or more of the questions will prompt readers to think on the story’s topic a bit… and perhaps respond.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this one, Joanna! (And by the way, I’d consider it a 4-parter, myself.) ;-)

But maybe that’s just me.

Brad Shorr 06.10.08 at 3:59 pm

Joanna, can’t wait to see the rest of this series. You’ve selected a very important topic, one I (and I’d venture to say most other bloggers) can never know too much about.

Joanna Young 06.10.08 at 5:16 pm

Robert, I swithered back and forth on the numbering! I’ll go with your advice. You’re an engineer aren’t you? Must know about such things :-) Glad you think the series will be useful

Brad, well I’ve you to thank for inspiring me to do it. You’ve got me thinking hard about how we frame questions and it generated a lot of material - more than enough for a 3, no 4, part series!


SpaceAgeSage 06.10.08 at 5:45 pm

I want to know how Seth Godin leaves me asking questions of myself when he rarely asks questions!

Sounds like a great series, and I’m looking forward to it.


Joanna Young 06.10.08 at 8:47 pm

Oh Space Age Sage, there’s a challenge all right: work out how Seth Godin manages to get us thinking so hard using so few words… I think if I knew the answer to that one I’d have made my fortune before now!


Karen 06.10.08 at 10:25 pm

Joanna, great idea for a series, no matter whether you call it 3-part or 4-part. I think this is something very close to blog-writers hearts… as it’s about engaging the reader, drawing them in, having them share their reaction to our words. I am very curious to read all three future parts of your series!

Karen x

Rosa Say 06.10.08 at 11:44 pm

Fabulous Joanna! I am so looking forward to your series! I do believe there is an art to asking great questions, and you are so, so good at it.

Bo 06.11.08 at 12:24 am

I am always captivated when a blogger ends with a question that gives me pause, makes me dig a bit. Great idea for a series. I’m thinking how this will work its way into poetry, too. I’m seeing lots of applications. Thank you so much.

Joanna Young 06.11.08 at 10:13 am

Rosa, I think you’re well skilled in that art too, but I’m glad you’ll be with me in the series nonetheless :-)

Bo, I love those kind of posts too. The questions that make you dig a bit. I’m hoping to explore that more thoroughly in part II, asking questions for a change.

Interesting to think about the applications for poetry. Gosh, you keep on getting me thinking about poetry! Thanks :-)


Confident Writing 06.11.08 at 10:44 am

Creating The Space To Ask Questions: Asking Questions With A Purpose Part II

I’ve realised this series on questions is going to turn into a 5 parter, never mind a 3 or a 4. Here’s a quick addition before I get into the purposeful part of the questions. I’ve decided to add this

Karen Swim 06.11.08 at 2:28 pm

A career in sales taught me that questions were a great bridge builder. The key is to ask and then actually listen to the answers as people reveal so much enabling you to create a genuine connection. When you can turn the spotlight back on the other person and get them talking, it paves the way for conversation and relationship. I can’t wait to dig into this series and learn more. Oh, and yes Seth Godin makes my head hurt (in a good way). I think his gift is striking a deep chord that inspires us to ask the questions.


Confident Writing 06.11.08 at 4:04 pm

The Purpose That’s Driving Your Question: Asking Questions With A Purpose Part III

Please don’t interrupt me when I’m asking rhetorical questions (Mission Impossible III) Not all questions demand an answer. There are lots of different reasons why we ask questions, and getting clear on your reasons - getting clear on the purpose

Joanna Young 06.11.08 at 4:09 pm

Karen (Wallace)

Sorry I jumped over your comment!

This is a powerful motivation for most bloggers:

“as it’s about engaging the reader, drawing them in, having them share their reaction to our words”

I hope the series will help create some ideas and suggestions to do that… I’m sure I’ll get more questions to make me think harder about it too!


Joanna Young 06.11.08 at 4:13 pm

Karen (Swim), you’re absolutely right. Listening to the answers is critical if you’re going to build those kind of bridges and connections to another human being.

Re Seth: I was looking at one of his most recent posts and questions. He finished up with this:

“This is going to happen. The only question is whether you are one of the people who will make it happen. I guess there’s an even bigger question: will we do it right?”

Perfect call to action question: plain, simple language. No word over two syllables. Short sentences. Personal address direct to you, the reader. But he’s willing to ask big, deep challenging questions… the kind we really need to be thinking about. Brilliant.

You’re right, it is head hurting, but in a good way.


Confident Writing 06.12.08 at 6:13 am

Asking Questions For A Change: Part IV of the Questions Series

“A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken. (Dune) There are times when we write or ask questions without any expectation

cat 06.13.08 at 2:46 am

Joanna, apologies for coming in late (I had a couple of things to get out of the way first ;-)

“What is it about some questions that leaves us thinking so hard about them afterwards? What makes readers respond to some questions… and ignore others completely?”

This is going to be an excellent series, for sure! And one I’ve been looking forward to.

Confident Writing 06.13.08 at 6:01 am

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Ask Your Readers Questions: Part V Of Purposeful 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

Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching 06.13.08 at 8:13 pm

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Joanna Young 06.13.08 at 9:05 pm

Cat, I’m just glad I’ve made it through your unsubscribing blitz! Glad you think the series will be helpful. They seem to be a lot more work than writing 5 lots of posts, but maybe that’s because there’s more sense of purpose and commitment behind them (maybe there’s a writing lesson for me in there…)


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