How to write deep articles?
Israelis love pistachios.
But pistachios don’t grow in Israel.
They come from Iran.
Iran is the producer of the best pistachios and has been exporting them to Israel for decades.
Then something went wrong.
Iran had severe droughts the past several years that adversely affected pistachio quality.
California pistachios overtook the market except in Israel.
Why not Israel?
Because you can’t convince Israelis that their beloved nuts from any other place could be better than the ones they hold dear.
They had their blinder on.
So do we, about certain things.
When we have certain beliefs, it is tough to go past them.
We can change our beliefs if we ask questions and get new information.
But we hate asking questions. Especially about the things we hold dear.
What’s the big deal about asking questions?
Questions matter. They matter because questions determine the kind of answers you get. They create the challenges that foster learning.
Irving Sigel was a developmental psychologist who devoted his life to exploring the importance of asking questions. He believed, correctly, that the brain responds to questions in ways that we now describe as social, emotional, and cognitive development. Questions create the challenges that make us learn.
His extensive research showed how to improve the way we pose questions to learn more from the world around us. Although Irving Sigel’s research was directed toward children’s learning, his techniques can also be applied to adult learning.
Siegel found ways to ask questions that encourage the complex interpretations of stories, events, and circumstances. He came up with three suggestions to ask questions.
1. Use the rule of three to ask better questions and extend thinking.
What’s the rule of three? It’s a technique that has been used in classrooms since Aristotle was teaching in ancient Greece. It involves three kinds of questions:
Closed Questions: These questions generally elicit yes or no answers.
Open Questions: These questions demand detailed answers that open up the possibilities of thinking and elaborating existing understanding.
Two Questions Technique: Follows your first question with another in quick succession. The second question demands more cognitive and emotional consideration when paired with the first question.
Asking questions like this allow kids (and adults) to put distance between themselves and the events around them. Holding things at “arm’s length” helps them see things more clearly.
In 2020 I did an article writing course where my teacher Sean D’Souza helped me improve my writing skills. One of his suggestions was to take a topic deep.
But how do you do that?
He suggested that I find out the questions and objections readers would raise after reading my articles. This one suggestion elevated my writing.
Because by raising objections and resolving them, I was adding two voices to my article. One voice was the voice of a teacher giving knowledge, and the other was of the student asking questions. These two tones worked in tandem to provide depth.
So how do you ask the right questions?
This is the tricky part. Because you see - there is no one right question. Ten people reading your article will come up with twenty different follow-up questions.
But you can try to resolve the common questions that can come up by creating two personas. Two types of students:
Cynical students. They challenge the idea and try to find holes. Their key question is - In what situations will the idea not work?
Curious students. They want to know the details. Their key question is - How do you do that?
Include answers to their questions in your writing, and your article will be deep and thoughtful.
I am on vacation from 23 May to 6 July. So if I miss an issue of this newsletter or don’t respond to your comments on time, that is why.
Please keep your comments coming. They encourage me and tell me what resonates with you.
When I get back, I will be running a sprint, Write Your Book In 30 Days, from 18 July; if you are interested, register your name here.
That’s all from me this week.
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