Does It Really Matter If My Questions Ramble On And On And On?

Everyone knows what a question is . . . don't they? You'd think so, but one of my absolute pet peeves is when people think they're asking a question, but utterly fail to actually do so.

Photo: Valerie Everett

Neil Gaiman summed it up rather nicely when presenting recently at the Sydney Writer's Festival, quoting Tom Stoppard, who was quoting Neil Gaiman. You can do that when you're famous. Just prior to the Q&A session, Gaiman spoke about the dreadful tendency for questions in this kind of context to turn into monologues:

A question is a short interrogative statement with a question mark at the end, capable of being answered by the person on the stage.

You're probably not on a stage right now, but he's absolutely right regardless of context. Too many questions I hear being asked aren't questions at all. They're statements of opinion or just the question-asker loving the sound of their own voice far too much. Keep it short, keep it simple, say it in a sentence; that's the essence of no-nonsense language, whether you're writing something down or simply having a conversation.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing (or in this case, speaking).


    I find this happening all the time at public meetings, (and often on Q&A). In such a situation it is good if the chair of the meetings says they will only accept questions from the floor if the question is written down. Since the questioner is unlikely to want to pen an essay, it force them to be more concise in their question.

    I'm reminded of tennis post-match interviews, which once upon a time used to involve asking the player questions, but have painfully morphed these days into the interviewer making a statement to which he wants the player to respond. Tedious.

    What's your point?

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