Questions that Lead to Problems (In a Good Way)


Things to Consider:

What I outlined in my previous post about focusing your essay is pretty much how your essay should develop. You begin by saying what you’re writing about (name it), then move on to explain why, and then in the final section you dig deeper by asking “So what?”

Topic: I am studying…

Question: because I want to find out why/what/how…

Significance: So that my reader will understand…

Once you identify the topic/problem you are studying then you need to begin asking questions. These questions will ultimately lead you to research and develop your essay. The whole point of writing your essay is to solve a problem. This, after all, is the ultimate goal of research. The world is full of problems that require solutions, you don’t have to look very far to find one. Now, that being said, there are two types of problems for which we can solve, (I know this sounds like a math problem, but stick with me fellow writers, don’t be discouraged). The first type is conceptual, mainly it is purely in the realm of ideas. It results from a lack of knowledge or understanding, something and does not necessarily have a practical role in the world. The second type is, yeah, you guessed it, practical problems. Practical problems have a real world solution. Think of the essays that appear in Medical Journals, their intent is to expound upon a practical solution using research, most likely for some type of treatment.

The consequence:

The consequence represents a gap in the progression of your essay; it is something you don’t know yet but is necessary for your essay to proceed logically. You need to ask yourself, “What is it that I don’t understand?” For instance, in order to understand how destiny affects Anakin Skywalker you need to examine his past as well as his newfound relationships. So, “What don’t I understand about Anakin’s decision to join the Dark Side?” You’d have to look at how the Jedi view destiny and how the Sith view destiny as well as his fears from past experiences. It would be impossible to understand his choices without researching these aspects first. According to the authors of The Craft of Research you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. If my readers want to achieve the goal of __________[Conceptual significance]

  2. Would they think that they could do it if they found out __________? [state your question from step 2]. (60)

Here is an expanded series of how my essay would progress. The potential application section would in essence be the knowledge I want my readers to take and use. Note that not all research may have a potential application but it makes your essay much stronger.

1. Topic: I am learning about how destiny and free will affect Anakin Skywalker’s choices in Star Wars.

2. Conceptual Question: Because I want to discover how his belief in destiny influenced his decision to join the Dark side.

3. Conceptual Significance: In order to help the reader understand how free will and destiny affect the decisions we make daily.

4. Potential Application: So that readers might better be prepared to make life decisions that are self-less and positive for humankind.

If you were to do that using my model then it is true and logical. If my readers want to achieve the goal of learning how destiny and free will affect the decisions we make, would they think that they could do it if they found out how Anakin’s belief in destiny and free will influenced his decision to join the Dark side? This would certainly be plausible.

In other words; as a consequence of learning how free will and destiny affect the decisions we make, I first need to understand how destiny and free-will affect Anakin Skywalker. (This is true, but you must dig deeper and remember to back up your findings to connect it with the decisions people make in their own lives). If we were to look at this in a completely different way, if I want to understand why I don’t like cucumbers I must first look at what influenced my decision to not like cucumbers. Everything should have a logical progression.

Other things to consider:

Now, the potential application could be different, it all depends on how you want to gear your essay. This just happens to be the direction I would write the essay based on my topic. What is most important is that your essay follow this logical progression. Just substitute the underlined sections with your own topic and questions to see if your essay has a logical progression.

Definitely look for problems as you read. When you research your topic read all different types of articles and as many books as you can. As you read do not just look for information that matches what you plan on proving, but look at information that contradicts what you intend. You have to use that to sharpen your argument. It will make your essay that much stronger. Also, save the potential application section for your closing arguments, it’s more effective that way.

*For more detailed information and different examples read The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregor G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams.

Source for this blog: Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams. The

Craft of Research. 3rd ed., University of Chicago Press, 2008.


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