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Academic Coaching & Writing

IV. Approach the So What Question

Feb 14, 2011 by Caroline Eisner

The last blog discussed the importance of developing an argument and considering the purpose, audience, and genre of your writing. In academic writing you must also address the “So What” question. The “So What” question is about giving your readers enough information so that they will want to, will feel compelled to, keep reading, rather than continually, or even once, asking themselves, “Why should I care about this?”

Will your reader care about your argument, perspective, and topic, or will your reader ask, “So what? Why should I care about this and keep reading?” Academic writing is successful when it answers the “So What” question, by providing answers to the following questions:

  • What is the issue?
  • What are the specific questions surrounding the issue?
  • What is the context and background of the issue?
  • Why does the issue matter?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • Why is it important to solve it?
  • Where are you going to look for answers?
  • Why are you going to look there?
  • Why should the reader care?

Another way to think of this is to think about your motive for embarking on such an arduous intellectual writing task. What is the reason for selecting your topic? Why do you think the topic needs to be addressed and why should your readers care about your argument? Is it because (and it needs to be at least one of these):

  • The truth is not what one would expect, or what it might appear to be on first reading;
  • There is an interesting complexity to the topic;
  • The standard opinion of this topic needs to be challenged, qualified, or righted;
  • There remains a contradiction, paradox, or tension that needs to be figured out; and
  • Readers can learn something interesting about a larger phenomenon by studying this smaller one.

As I said earlier, be specific and detail-oriented. Don’t expect your readers to know what you know. You are the expert in this study. As you hold your readers’ hands, remember that you need to keep them interested and to keep providing the information that will answer the “So What” question with which they began reading. As you progress through your argument, the question should disappear because you are providing new and relevant information.

  • scott says:

    Jan 05, 2016 at 3:35 am

    any ideas on how to focus your thoughts or use the randomness to your advantage. feel like i have writers block for certain words; my ideas are really deep and intellectual, but come out wring or a extremely simplified versions. i know your not going to teach me a whole lesson. I would rather be given tips or strategies to focus; i get random inspirations to learn again but cannot mentally handle school and work. In particular i would like the opportunity to go back to school, but i cant get the focus i need and that hinders my ambition. I have the desiree, yet need a motivational tip or quick lesson from someone who's been through rough times and knows how to keep going and can enlighten me. I have been through alot, so thoughts dont always translate into words properly. I would rather get back to being in tune with my thoughts, so that i may express myself properly. when i realized i no longer had interest in things, i felt inadequate because i feel i have potential to become something better than what i currently sttle for. Advice or the right step in the direction through: words of wisdom or maybe a free basic class of expressing ones self correctly or rather convey my thoughts and words the same. Sorry for my poor grammar im trying its been sometime since i wrote anything, feel free to correct me if you have time. Thanks in advance for reading this!

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