When we are learning something, there will be times when we need to ask questions to understand a subject. But have you ever asked a question, and ended up even more confused than before?
In this article, we will take a look at what it takes to ask a proper question, gain valuable insights, and eventually learn something from it.
The most common mistake I’ve seen when people ask questions is by not having a proper understanding of the topic itself. Even if you got an answer, you wouldn’t truly understand it — simply because the subject is novel to you.
Learning about the topic beforehand helps you know what you don’t know. This way, you can direct your questions to the parts that you need help on, skipping the parts that you already understood. It’s less time wasted for you and the person you ask.
Ask where to start instead. Don’t ask about specific parts, but ask about how to master the subject and which should you learn first.
Before you shoot your question, make sure you have the same understanding of the concept with the person you ask. Explain your idea of the matter, then proceed to ask.
When you are learning something, it is easy to get ahead of yourself and try to pick the brains of the guru. However, Rome was not built overnight. If you are at a beginner’s level, ask beginner questions, and understand the basics first. Ask from A to B to C, not from A to Z!
When asking, focus on one thing at a time. It can be a thing, a process, a concept, or an idea. But not the topic as a whole.
When you ask a broad question, chances are you won’t get a valuable answer back. The person you ask might have all the answers, but since it is too broad of a question, she won’t be able to tell you everything — she might not even know where to start. In the end, you won’t gain anything from the question.
If you had a chance to talk with an expert on the field, they would hate answering questions that are too broad, or too basic. After all, they’re experts. If you ask these kinds of questions, it is apparent that you are not trying hard to learn because the answers to fundamental and broad questions can be Googled easily.
When you are expecting for an answer or an explanation, you should know what kind of answer you are expecting. There are two types of answers that I can think of; a definite answer and a loose answer. If you know what to expect, you’ll find it easier to understand the given answer.
When you receive an exact answer, you’ll know if it’s right or wrong straight away. Because there is an explanation for it. It is proven, scientifically. For example, in Mathematics, 1+1 equals 2. And in Biology, elephant is a mammal.
Loose answers, like its name, are loosely defined. It does not have a right or wrong. It might not have been proven scientifically, but it does not mean that it’s wrong. The answers given are based from experience, comparing opinions, and building on top of ideas.
When you receive a loose answer, you should understand the reason why the person gave you that answer. Look for the variables, situations, and reasons why they made the decision.
It is not to receive an answer. The mindset that you need to have when asking questions should be more open-minded: to gain valuable insights and progress further. If you treat a question as a tool to get answers, you are not using it to its full potential.
Ask questions to dig deeper. It has the power to doubt someone’s previous understanding of a subject. You shouldn’t stop questioning when you receive an answer. Ask follow-up questions and try to understand different points of view of the matter in question.
In the end, don’t ask so you can be spoon-fed. Ask you you can learn more, improve your knowledge, and master the subject.
This article is based on the conversations I had with friends and colleagues who’s asked questions and thought that they couldn’t get satisfying answers.