Determining what to write or reviewing what’s been written: framework 1

Using systematic questioning to figure out what to say or whether there’s more to be said

Editors are typically well familiar with working with checklists. Writers perhaps less so.

In a corporate setting, editors use editorial checklists to stay consistent both with themselves and across the editing organization over various projects in a writing group. They use editorial checklists to explain to writers what they’ll be looking for and to clarify for managers the scope of their work. They use editorial checklists to train novice editors or to help onboard new editors to the group. They use editorial checklists to define the levels of edit in a given context.

In a publishing environment, editors use checklists in much the same way, though not with one writing group, but rather individual authors. In this setting, any checklists used follow the publication standards of the press and may also be tailored for a specific imprint or series. Managing editors share the appropriate checklists and standards with freelance editors.

The checklist that follows can also be thought of a framework, an investigative framework. Developmental editors can use it as a high-level prompt when reviewing a complex, perhaps lengthy text to help ensure even coverage. Writers can use it as a heuristic for exploring a subject, any subject, which they’ll be researching and writing about.

The set of questions is general and high level. These are questions that can be applied to a broad range of subjects and a variety of approaches. The list is not exhaustive, but rather suggestive, and it has not been fine-tuned to any particular writing situation. Another potential application for this list would be to use it as the basis for a more detailed set of questions, tailored to a particular context.

This is one of two frameworks. The other develops a different line of questioning.

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Setting the context

Who?

  • Who’s involved?

  • Who ought this involve?

  • Who might it involve?

What?

  • What’s being described or explained?

  • If an event, what happened?

  • If not, what’s the situation?

  • What are the elements or components involved?

  • To what class of things does it belong?

How?

  • What’s the process?

  • How does it work?

  • How does one proceed?

Where?

  • Where does this apply?

  • Where ought it apply?

  • Where might it apply?

When?

  • When did/does it happen?

  • Under what circumstances does it (ought it, might it) apply?

Why?

  • What caused (or causes) it? What are the reasons?

  • And, sometimes equally important to consider: why not?

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Exploring the context

What are the implications or results?

  • What consequences are involved?

  • Why would someone undertake or avoid it?

  • What does it imply or entail?

  • Has it advantages or virtues?

  • Has it disadvantages or defects?

To what extent is it true?

  • Are there any limits? Ought there to be any limits?

  • When (or under what circumstances) is it true? When is it not true?

  • Are there exceptions or qualifications that do (that ought, that might) pertain?

How do we know about it?

  • What is the source of (or authority for) the information?

  • How reliable is that source?

  • How do we know it to be reliable (or unreliable)?

To what other things or events is it connected?

What purpose does it or might it serve?

How can it be evaluated for these purposes?

Ought it or any components of it to be defined? If so, how can it be defined?

  • What are its distinguishing features?

  • What are its component parts?

  • What is it similar to?

  • What is it different from?

What examples or analogies apply? (Sometimes related to defining or explaining; sometimes related to proving)

  • What is it similar to?

  • What is it different from?

Can it be analyzed into parts or aspects?

  • How are its parts put together?

  • How do they work together?

  • What can be said of any of the parts in relation to the other(s)?

If it has parts, can these parts be grouped or arranged in any consistent fashion?

  • Chronologically (by or through time, as in narration)

  • Spatially (physically, as with description)

  • Logically (following some order or arrangement you impose upon it, used most often with the explaining of ideas and making of arguments)

What have other people said about it? Does it matter? Why or why not?

Adapted from somewhere, long ago. I no longer remember where.