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Writing Well Using Socratic Questioning: Part 2

Updated on August 17, 2012

Socratic Questioning: Probing Assumptions


As I mentioned in the first hub in this series, Writing Well Using Socratic Questioning, learning to write well is a process. It takes work. But when it comes to quality writing, going light on the preparation is never an option. So, with that being said, let us get started.

In installment one of this series I introduced Socratic questioning, what it was, and how it can be used to improve your writing. Now I want to build on those concepts with another type of question—Socratic questions, of course.

Socratic questions directed at probing assumptions are an excellent way to dig deeper into the biases and unquestioned beliefs of a writer or their subject. In other words, the mindsets forging a writer’s base of argument are revealed. By probing assumptions, writers begin to pry open vaults of personal beliefs held dear. Either way, the results are golden.

So, without further adieu, here are a few examples of Socratic questions that probe assumptions. For starters:

  • Based on that assumption, what else can you assume?

This is a tough one better explained in context. Say, for example, you are writing an essay (or book) comparing conflicting opinions on government spending—please note the lack of a current hot button…

In one corner stands the stoic conservative—for now we’ll call this the right corner. While in the left corner, proudly standing, is the liberal. Both sides have strong opinions—opinions based on assumptions they feel altruistic in their own way. The stage is therefore set, the time ripe for a round of questions that probe assumptions. Shall we begin?

Directed at the right corner:

  • Based on your assumption that government spending should be corralled, what else does this line of thinking cause you to assume? (Please note how I simply reworded the above question to meet the topic.)

The answer(s) to this question are poised to go beyond what respondents are planning to say concerning viewpoints on government spending. They will be edged into less-familiar territory. Territory that often yields a wealth of new and insightful information available for you to write about; which for you as an author is what, in many ways, defines your writing.

But you can't stop there. To equalize the debate, as well as providing for an enticing argument, the same question should be asked of the left corner inhabitant, the liberal side of view. Whatever the responses, the difference in opinions make readers think and compare.Score one for you for asking such thought-provoking queries.

As you can see, by moving someone into unfamiliar landscapes, the resulting responses can bust open a wealth of ideas, opinions, and interesting conversations. Yes indeed, probing assumptions are an excellent bedrock shaker.

Other Examples of Assumption-Probing Questions:

  • How did you arrive at your assumption(s)?

Here is a question that mines deeper into the mindset of the subject—that is, getting them to relinquish (or at least attempt to) their motives. Because, after all, for every thought, action, and line of thinking lies a motive. And oftentimes, unearthing motives leads to many other probing questions; such as…

  • Please explain, or elaborate, why you feel this way?

Or…

  • What life experiences have forged the way you feel about this topic?

Both questions are directed at widening the subject’s thought processes and allow you, the writer, to capture smoky glimpses behind an individual's way of thinking. The end result is almost always more interesting and insightful than by simply asking someone why they feel a certain way. Which leads me to an important point: Socratic questioning, as a whole, is organic, fluid, and flexible. One question typically leads to another, and to another, and so on. It can be said that a well-conceived line of Socratic questions unleashes a stream of consciousness. Sometimes the words turn into a flood. Believe me, this is good for writers.

Before leaving this group of questions, some other examples of probing assumptions might include…

  • How can you give validity for, or against your assumption?
  • What would happen if your assumption became the norm?
  • Can you see the argument against your assumption?

As you can see, questions that probe assumptions are designed to allow writers to gain core truths, feelings, or motivations behind certain behaviors. They are, in essence, where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Or in this case, where the pen meets the paper. Socratic questions that probe assumptions not only plumb new areas of thought, they springboard current lines of thinking into rivers of fresh ideas.

Broaden your writing skills with probing assumptions today. The results are rather enlightening.

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