How to Write Compelling Discussion Questions That People–Including Yourself!–Will Want to Answer!

How to Write Compelling Discussion Questions

What makes a good discussion question? The kind that not only generates a conversation in others, but also makes you, the originator of the question, want to answer it, as well? Read on to find some of our tips for crafting discussion questions that get people talking!

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Go beyond “yes” or “no” questions–or questions that will only generate a sentence response.

A compelling discussion question requires an answer that needs at least a few paragraphs to answer. On a basic level, this means going beyond questions such as, “Do you like to reread books?” (which could prompt one to answer simply, “Yes,” or “No”) and adding a little bit more, such as, “Why or why not?”

However, it also means avoiding questions that would generate easy responses that do not in turn generate more discussion. For example, a question such as, “Where do you like to store your books?” even though it is not a “yes or no” question, will likely receive simple answers such as, “On my bookshelf” or, “On the nightstand.” There is not a lot more to say in response, except perhaps why (“It’s convenient,” or, “I ran out of room on the shelf”) and even that requires only another sentence. Furthermore, these answers are unlikely to generate further discussion from other readers unless someone comes up with a really novel and useful way to store books. The conversation will end with each person saying where they keep books and no one really talking to each other.

In the same vein, questions with numerical answers may not necessarily generate much discussion, either. A question like, “How many times have you read your favorite book?” or, “How often do you visit the library?” again requires only a short answer: “X number of times.” A really thought-provoking question needs just a little bit more to get people talking.

Instead of asking questions that have an easy, one word or one sentence answer, try asking questions where respondents might have to think through different possible answers. For example, a “how” question would make people consider multiple outcomes. Take a question such as, “How could the library be improved?” or, “How do you decide what to read next?” Respondents can probably think of several changes they would love to see in their library. And they probably have various answers for how they decide what to read next because what they want to read might vary on their mood, their available free time, what reviewers and websites they have been reading, and more.

But thinking through possible answers might also mean that mean that, even though a respondent might immediately think of their answer, they can also imagine other people answering differently. For example, “Do you think the public library is still relevant? Why or not?” might automatically make many people want to scream, “YES!” But they probably also realize some people might want to scream, “No!” To write a convincing response, they will have to demonstrate why they think the library is still relevant by providing examples and anticipating counterarguments. Their answer will have to be at least a few paragraphs, and it will be easier for their answer to inspire a continuing conversation.

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Get controversial.

An easy way to generate discussions that continue for awhile is to think about questions that generate controversy. This could mean tackling trending topics (such as when Twitter get upset at people calling their book exchanges “libraries”) or responding to questions that still continue to energize and divide the bookish community (like whether Susan Pevensie was treated fairly by C. S. Lewis). Controversial questions do not have to be questions that make people angry–just questions that have multiple potential responses people might make. They are questions that do not necessarily have easy answers, but ones that might require some more research, thought, and nuance.

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Do some research.

The thought of doing research might make some bloggers cringe. They aren’t in school, after all! But looking up information is key not only to answering questions, but also to generating new ones. The internet will often take hold of an idea and present it as fact, and others will usually take that information at face value. Try questioning others’ takes! Reading up on the issues will often present new facets to be taken into account, which might raise thoughts such, as “But why?” or, “What if?” or, “How?” or, “Then what?” Follow these thoughts to generate new, invigorating questions that can in turn become a discussion post. The nuances of a question are often what make it fascinating, and these nuances are often only revealed after some research provides a fuller picture of the issue.

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Conclusion

Much of this advice boils down to one thing: when crafting a discussion question, try to imagine how other people might respond. If it seems like they might only have a reflexive one-word or one-sentence answer, that means either that they do not find the question interesting (They’re responding in a kind of, “Well, of course!” way) or that the question itself might not be that interesting (It happens.). Ask questions that require some analysis from responders, ones that make them consider different points of view than their own, or ones that enable them to imagine different possible answers. The types of questions without easy answers are the ones most likely to generate a conversation, since people will offer different perspectives, thus keeping the discussion going.

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Additional Resources

What are your tips for writing a compelling discussion question?

7 thoughts on “How to Write Compelling Discussion Questions That People–Including Yourself!–Will Want to Answer!

  1. Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    Only discussion question I add is at the end of any post that are mostly reviews. Even if they are to make write a while sentence I don’t see many answering them and I’m sure they’re not tough. As for usual discussion post I still haven’t wrote many or any original one so I need to work on that. Great post!

    Like

  2. Christina @ The Bookshelf Corner says:

    Great post! I sometimes struggle with writing good, open-ended questions that encourage elaboration. Still a work in progress but I’m sort of getting there. Takes practice.

    Like

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