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Snap Language

Getting Smarter through Language

How to Answer and Elaborate on Open-Ended Questions Effectively (Page 2)
(A-Level, Basic Writing Skill)

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Steps to Answer and Elaborate on Questions

1. Understand the Question

Of course, you must first understand the question well. What information do you need to provide to answer the question.

Questions usually have a “question prompt,” or the part of the question that lets you know what you need to say. The question prompt also uses keywords and verbs that make the question clear.


Understanding questions

Question prompts have words or expressions such as

  • What
  • How
  • When
  • Why
  • What are the steps in
  • What is the purpose of
  • What main reasons
  • What is the importance of

Question prompts are often combined with verbs such as

  • think
  • believe
  • interpret
  • explain
  • discuss

You end up with complex questions such as

These are often combined with verbs such as

  • What is the difference between A and B?
  • How do you think this works?
  • How do you believe this is possible?
  • Compare and contrast A and B.
  • Explain the process involved in _____.
  • List and explain the main causes of _____.

Note. The last three items on the above list are called “directives” or “directive prompts.” They do not use question format, but you understand that you must “answer” or respond to them, so you can use the same techniques on this page to respond to them.

Important note about “directive prompts”

This lesson is about open-ended question used to get information from you. However, sometimes people make affirmative statements and expect you to provide information. For example, “Tell me what you did this weekend” is not a question, but you should respond to it the same way.

Examine the following test item:

People do not eat enough vegetables. Discuss.

The test item is not phrased as a question, but there are several “indirect questions" in it:

Why don’t people eat enough vegetables?

What happens (what are the consequences) when people don't eat enough vegetables?

What can we do to make people eat more vegetables?

Do people not eat enough vegetables because they do not know they are good for your health?

Does culture influence how much people eat vegetables?

Are vegetables easy for everyone to find?

It is important to pay close attention to the question so you know what you need to address in your answer. You can then draw on what you know or what you have learned to answer it.

2. Outline Your Answer First

Once you understand the question and what information you need to provide to answer it, outline the answer. What information do you know about the topic? What do you need to answer to show you understand the topic?

The outline does not need to be very detailed, but it will serve as a map when you finally write your answer.

Start with the simple answer. That is what you must include to answer the question directly.

Next, include supporting details in the outline to make the answer clear and thorough. Make sure the details are about the question.

If the question is oral, you do not have time to outline the answer, but you can think about it quickly. When people ask you oral questions, they understand that you do not have time to prepare your answer.

3. Write and Elaborate on the Simple Answer

Finally, follow your outline and write your answer including all the important details that show you understand the topic. Always include the simple answer. That is the minimum amount of information you need in your answer.

To elaborate on the simple answer, you can use one or more of the strategies you will see next in this lesson.

Up Next: Techniques to Elaborate on Your Answers

Continue the lesson to learn the techniques you can use to answer and elaborate on your answers.