We are often taught that restating the question is the best way to write a proper answer. If someone asks, “Name one of the causes of the Civil War?”, the accepted way to begin the answer would be, “One of the causes of the Civil War was…”
Right? Right. I think. Let’s find out.
If restating the question is the correct way to write an answer, why is it so hard for kids to learn?
Reason #1: It’s not how we speak to each other in normal conversation.
Have you ever stopped to consider how silly that would sound? Case in point:
Me: Are you able to go out for coffee tomorrow?
Friend: I am not able to go out for coffee tomorrow.
Me: Does this weekend work better?
Friend: This weekend does not work better.
It sounds like a conversation between robots. And—holy moly—can you imagine conversations via text if we had to restate the question every time?
Reason #2: Writing has become very informal.
Thanks to social media and texting, writing has become very informal. I would even argue that writing was steering towards informal before that. Kids and adults read a lot of things in their daily life that do not follow the restate the question format. I’ve failed to “restate the question” several times already in this article.
Reason #3: There aren’t a whole lot of real life examples outside of schoolwork or essays where restating the question is the norm.
We are often taught the reason for answering a question by restating the question is because if someone was reading our work that was not aware of the what the question had been, they would not be confused as to what we were answering. (More on that in a bit.)
My sons have always struggled with restating the question in their writing. So one day, I handed them this piece of paper.
Oldest son: “Um. What is this?”
I explained it was the answers to some questions and we were going to discuss the answers.
Oldest son read the answers: “But…I have no idea what this is about.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Oldest son: “What do these answers even mean? These could be replies to just about anything.”
Then I handed both of my sons this paper:
Oldest son, catching on: “Funny, Mom. I get it.”
We then discussed how we could better write the answers to those questions (by restating the question) so the readers would have a better idea of what was going on.
“I like archery because…”
“I like hanging out with my best friend because…”
“One change I’m going to make to my garden in 2016 is…”
My youngest son, who had been quiet the whole time, piped up: “But mom, here’s the thing. I don’t get why this matters. When are we ever going to be walking around and pick up some random stranger’s piece of work and wonder what questions he was actually answering?”
He had a point. Other than in teaching/school, I can see no example in real life where restating the question seems natural or even necessary. (If you have one, please feel free to leave it in the comments. It’s possible I’m missing a really obvious answer.)
So what did I tell my youngest son?
Me: “Well, son. Someday you might be involved in something somewhere and have to answer an essay question on a test. So file this in your back pocket for ‘things I might need for college’. So basically, just know that it’s ‘a thing’.”
And you’ll notice that when I answered him, I did not restate the question.