Writers use critical questions to find cracks and crannies, places where they need to develop or clarify their thinking. In their relentless pursuit of clearly expressed, well-developed ideas, they find soft spots—that is, passages that need to be developed or discarded and sections that just don’t feel right—that feel mushy like cereal that has been sitting for too long in sour milk. They ruthlessly ask “So what?” and “Who cares?” and reexamine their work, because they know reconsidering a line or a metaphor or even a word may give birth to a new idea or to reconsideration of what has been written. Below provides many questions you can use to interrogate your writing or your peers’ writing.
- What is your thesis? Have you expressed it, either explicitly or implicitly?
- Will readers understand your reasons for writing? Have you provided the specific examples, concrete language, careful reasoning, and supporting evidence that they need in order to understand my position?
- In what ways have you fulfilled the assignment requirements in terms of purpose, length, audience, required/appropriate sources, appropriate persona/tone, and rhetorical stance?
- What makes your thesis arguable, controversial, and/or insightful?
- How does your thesis reflect your paper’s purpose?
- How have you advanced your thesis through convincing and compelling ideas?
- How does each paragraph—along with all the sentences it contains—support your main idea?
- Can you make my manuscript more enjoyable to read by incorporating more images and metaphors, by offering more creative examples?
- How credible are your sources?
- How can you demonstrate the source’s credibility to the reader?
- In what ways can you provide supporting details to best back up your claims (i.e., anecdotal evidence and hypothetical examples)?
- How are your sources or details relevant to your thesis and purpose?
- Can the reader distinguish between your ideas and those of your sources?
- How can you better integrate your sources and details into your argument instead of letting them speak for you?
- How much of the quote is vital to make your point?
- What might be a more appropriate approach for this sourced material (i.e., summary, paraphrase, quotation)?
- Where is the evidence to back up this assertion?
- Have you provided enough background information for readers to understand my opinions and the significance of the subject matter I am addressing?
- Have you expressed your meaning with detail and forcefulness so that your readers will be able to “see” what I have written?
- Am you presented a consistent voice throughout the text? If there are variations in the tone of the document, are they intentional and effective?
- In what ways does your opening engage your reader?
- How do your topic sentences relate to your thesis?
- How do your topic sentences indicate the purpose of each paragraph, and within each paragraph, how do all of your ideas pertain to the topic of the paragraph?
- Where do you use appropriate transitional language to connect ideas between sentences?
- In what ways do you preview or signal to your reader? In other words, how might you give your reader a heads-up before you shift ideas (“segue”) as well as a nod toward the ideas that have come before?
- How does your conclusion answer the “so what” question?
- In what manner have you reiterated your ideas?
- In what way have you provided a call to action and/or a contextualization?
- With what have you left your reader to think about at the end of your paper?
- In what ways does your paper organization reflect the classical argumentation style?
- In what ways does your paper organization reflect the Rogerian argumentation style?
- How can these ideas be arranged in a more logical order?
- How have you distinguished between main ideas and details?
- In what ways might you improve the flow or cohesiveness of your paper?
- How might you address the grammatical issue(s) (subject/verb agreement issues, pronoun reference problems, run-ons/fused sentences/comma splices, fragments, dangling or misplaced modifiers) that occur(s) throughout your essay?
- Can you identify places in your text where either punctuation is missing or where the purpose of this punctuation is unclear? How might you correct these punctuation issues?
- What is the appropriate point of view for this text based on your audience and purpose?
- You tend to use less explicit descriptions (such as clichés, qualifiers, wordy constructions, overuse of prepositional phrases, vague constructions). How might your discussion be more precise and engaging?
- How might you revise this sentence to make it clearer, more active, more convincing, and more connected to other sentences or ideas?
- Are there places in your paper where the word choice is inappropriate (conversational, archaic, stilted, sexist, racist, etc.) for your audience? What might be more appropriate?
- How might you include more sentence variety in your paper?
- How might you engage your reader by incorporating more figurative language (anecdote, narrative, simile, metaphor, dialogue, personification)? How might you offer more valid comparisons using these techniques?
- How might you make your paper formatting more compliant with the accepted documentation style (i.e., MLA guidelines)?
- How might you format your in-text citations so that they’re more compliant with the accepted documentation style?
- How might you format your annotations so that they’re more compliant with the accepted documentation style?
- How might you format your works cited page so that it’s more compliant with the accepted documentation style?
- How might you format your block quote so that it’s more compliant with the accepted documentation style?
- How might you format the punctuation surrounding your quote so that it’s more compliant with the accepted documentation style?
- How might you more effectively integrate multimedia components into your assignment so as to improve your document design?
In addition, you should consider the questions that are invoked by the particular project you are addressing. For example, the critical questions you would ask of a Web site differ from the questions you would ask of a personal narrative.
- Are there any templates available that I could use to make my work more visually appealing?
- Can I make my work more scannable by using headers, bullets, or lists?
- Could I use a picture, a graph, or a table to visually represent my meaning?