Article Index


More than the other ques­tions, "why" asks for reasons, conclusions, thoughts. It asks you to analyze and explain the actions and events you're writing about. For this rea­son, it's less important to ask why in personal narratives than in writing about ideas. Some writers even say explanation and analysis should be avoided altogether, letting readers draw their own con­clusions from the concrete details presented.


Subtopics of Why

Why did this happen?
Why didn't something else happen?
How can we recognize a cause?
How many causes are there?
Which causes are more or less important?
Which are the direct causes?
Which are the indirect causes?
What are the surface motives?
What are the underlying motives?
Why were the motives expressed in this way?
What are the short-term objectives?
What are the long-term objectives?
Why was this method chosen to achieve the objectives?
Were the results intentional or accidental?
If accidental, what circumstances produced the accident?
Why wasn't the accident prevented prevented?


That is, writers should show rather than tell what happened and why. For instance, if I show a customer slamming money on a counter and stomping out of a store, I shouldn't have to explain that she did this because she was angry. Readers will draw that conclusion themselves. The point's a good one. Besides being unnecessary, such explanatory passages detract from the writing's vividness, substituting analysis for drama.

This doesn't mean, though, that the question of "why" shouldn't be asked, only that it should be asked carefully and that its answer will often be revealed implicitly through showing rather than explicitly through direct telling.

Whether or not you make great use of the question of "why," you should be alert to its possibilities. Like the other questions, it can help you develop a fuller understanding of your subject, and the better you understand your subject, the better your chances of writing well.


1.9 Look back over the questions you wrote for Activity 1.3. What use did you make of the Journalists' Questions? Use the Journalists' Questions, and especially the subtopics, to expand your list. Again, don't worry if your questions are profound or important. Include some off-the-wall questions if you want. Add at least ten new items.

1.10 Look over the list you generated in Activity 1.9. Try to find patterns, areas of related interest, and arrange the questions in groups according to their common concerns.