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Answering Questions and Elaborating on Answers Effectively
When answering a question, you can often provide more than a short, simple answer, which can be unsatisfying. You can provide more detail and explain your thoughts or ideas.
Let’s go over techniques you can use to elaborate on your answers.
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Outline Your Answer First
Once you have identified exactly what the question requires you to address, outline the answer based on what you know about the subject. 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, or the statement or statements that directly address the question. Next, include supporting details in the outline. Details help give context to and clarify your simple answer. Make sure the details are relevant to the question by defining concepts, contrasting ideas, explaining and discussing causes and effects, clarifying with examples, and so on.
If the question is oral, you will have to answer on the fly, but that is the nature of spoken and written language. Oral answers are expected to be unplanned, but you can still apply many of the techniques in this course to elaborate on oral answers.
Write and Elaborate on the Simple Answer
Finally, follow the outline and write your answer addressing all elements in the question. The simple answer must always be included. It is the minimum amount of information you need to answer the question.
The simple answer by itself is often insufficient. When you elaborate on it by using one or more of the strategies you will see later in this lesson, you come up with a better answer and improve your communication skills.
Choosing the Right Technique to Elaborate on Your Answers
There are several techniques you can use to elaborate on an answer to an open-ended question such as framing the topic, providing examples, or acknowledging different perspectives on an issue. This is important to keep in mind: You do not need to use every technique. You can use one or more of them depending on the type of question you are answering and the content of your answer.
For example, if a question is about two or more ideas or concepts that you can compare and contrast, you may want to highlight similarities and differences between them; if the question is about a controversial issue, you may want to present counterarguments; and so on.
In the next portions of this course, we will look at a few techniques you can use.
(Note. The answers to the questions below are for instructional purposes only. If you want to know more about the topics in the answers, find information in other sources.)
Strategy 1. Frame the Issue or Paraphrase the Question
One effective way to begin elaborating on your open-ended answer is to frame the issue or paraphrase the question to introduce your answer. This can help you focus your thoughts and clarify your response to your readers.
Question: Why are researchers interested in studying the Mediterranean diet?
By studying the Mediterranean diet, researchers can understand the mechanisms through which it promotes good health and longevity and recommend similar diets that Americans can adopt.
Elaboration by framing the issue:
The role of diet has been a topic of interest for a long time. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil as well as moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy. It is associated with longevity and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's. By studying the Mediterranean diet, researchers can understand the mechanisms through which it promotes good health and longevity and recommend similar diets that Americans can adopt.
Strategy 2. Provide Details, Examples, and Illustrations
When answering open-ended questions, it's important to use specific details, examples, and illustrations to support your answer. This not only helps you explain your answer more thoroughly but also helps to make your response more interesting and engaging.
Question: Why is voting an important civic duty?
Voting is an important civic duty because it allows individuals to have a say in the political process and influence the direction of their country.
Elaboration by providing an example:
Voting is an important civic duty because it allows individuals to have a say in the political process and influence the direction of their country. For example, imagine a group of citizens who care about the environment and want their government to take action on climate change. If they do not vote, their voices may not be heard and their desired policies may not be implemented. However, if they exercise their right to vote and choose candidates who prioritize the environment, they can potentially influence the government to take action and make positive changes.
Strategy 3. Acknowledge Other Viewpoints or Provide Counterarguments
In some cases, it may be appropriate to acknowledge other points of view or provide counterarguments to your own position. This can help demonstrate your critical thinking skills and show that you've considered multiple perspectives. For example, if you're asked about the benefits of exercise, you might mention that while exercise is important, it's not the only factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Question: What is one of the most important events in American history?
The American Revolution is considered one of the most important events in American history because it established the United States as an independent nation and a global superpower. It marked the beginning of a new era in American history in which the founding principles of democracy, liberty, and equality were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The American Revolution is considered one of the most important events in American history because it established the United States as an independent nation and a global superpower. It marked the beginning of a new era in American history in which the founding principles of democracy, liberty, and equality were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Nonetheless, you could argue that the institution of slavery and the struggle for civil rights, including the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, are equally important. These events have had a lasting impact on the country’s social, political, and economic structures, shaping the lives of generations of Americans and influencing the trajectory of the country's development.
Strategy 4. Include Anecdotes If Appropriate for the Writing Context
Using anecdotes can be a powerful way to illustrate your points and make your answer more memorable. However, it is important to use anecdotes only when appropriate for the writing context. In academic writing, for example, you should use personal anecdotes sparingly. If you are taking a college course, you should ask your instructor whether or not using first-person accounts are acceptable in assignments and essays.
Question: How can diet and exercise improve our health?
Diet and exercise are two of the most important factors in maintaining good health. Eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity can help prevent chronic diseases and improve overall well-being.
Elaboration including anecdotal evidence:
Diet and exercise are two of the most important factors in maintaining good health. Eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity can help prevent chronic diseases and improve overall well-being. In my personal experience, making small changes to my diet and exercise routine has had significant benefits for my overall health and well-being. By eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly, I was able to lose weight and decrease my cholesterol levels. It also boosted my self-confidence.
Strategy 5. Include definitions of terms
Open-ended questions often ask for a definition. Even when they do not, however, sometimes you can elaborate on an answer by including definitions of terms that appear in the answer.
Question: How do people discriminate against others based on their accent?
Discrimination based on accent can manifest in different ways, including refusal to hire, promotion denial, negative stereotypes, social exclusion, and even harassment.
Elaboration including definition of terms:
An accent is the way a person pronounces words based on their linguistic background, geographic origin, or social identity. It is the unique way in which a person articulates sounds and intonations when speaking a particular language or dialect. Accent discrimination refers to the act of treating someone differently or unfairly based on their spoken accent. Discrimination based on accent can manifest in different ways, including refusal to hire, promotion denial, negative stereotypes, social exclusion, and even harassment.
Practice as Much as Possible
Finally, the best way to get better at elaborating on your open-ended answers is to practice. Look for opportunities to practice your writing or speaking skills, whether it's through journaling, participating in discussions, or taking language classes. The more you practice, the more confident you'll become in your ability to express your thoughts and ideas.
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