Six types of socratic questions

We ask similar questions after each time we preread or read the text. The questions can be divided into questions building our curiosity so we can focus on the text and questions we asked in order to ensure we understood the text properly. This post mainly deals with questions of the second kind. If we cannot answer the questions we need to reread the text. Typically I ask one question at the end of each section and 6 questions at the end of an article/chapter.

The tool that we use is called socratic questions, and apparently there are six types of them. This article was used to generate my list.

  1. Questions for clarification. Quite often we preread a text and do not understand its added value. What is the main subject of the article? Why did the author write the article? What can I get out of it? This sort of questions is typically asked after first prereading of an article. If we are puzzled by some section we asked it again. If the document does not make any sense, there is really no need to read and create mental markers – you might better reread the article after “Aha!” moment later on.
  2. Questions that probe assumptions. To get a reasonable theory some things need to be assumed. These assumptions may be explicitly stated in the document, implicitly assumed by the author like common sense, or may be invisible to the author being a part of his belief system. Typically we probe the assumptions after reading the chapter/article when we consider how to use the new information in our own knowledge base. Occasionally we find the article untrustworthy or useless in real life scenarios and need to probe assumptions immediately after initial prereading.
  3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence. This is something we ask quite often, almost every section, when trying to link the new information with other information we know. Some links may be obvious, yet some might require concentration and creativity. We make the more complex linking at the end of the text, when trying reevaluate the article. We do need to recreate the logic of the article from the details we remembered when reading. If something is missing from this logic we really should scan (read very fast) and rescan the article for the missing parts. This process results in improved comprehension but reduced average speed, so we do not count it when calculating the reading speed. Sometimes this “search and recovery” mission takes me x3-x5 more time than reading the article itself, especially with complex patents and scientific articles.
  4. Questions about viewpoints and perspectives. Typically we use various perspectives to increase creativity and curiosity before reading the article. It might be a good idea to ask the same question after reading the article, so we can identify the hidden agendas behind the article. An article is typically a work of several people with different agendas, each person and agenda being fused into the common text. You may have your own different agenda and then you might miss key arguments or you might have a very similar agenda and then you will miss flaws in logic. Occasionally articles contain hidden triggers which make us act differently. Do we want to incorporate these triggers in our life?
  5. Questions that probe implications and consequences. How can I use what I just read? This is the main question we ask after reading an article. If the article did not make your inner word richer, if you did not get motivated to do the right thing, if your knowledge base and toolset did not grow – then why did you read the article? Being honest to ourselves about why we read what we read and what we do with what we read is very important. If you read just to pass some sort of exam or because you have completion bias (decided to read so need to finish reading), you may want to reassess situation and find more practical motivations.
  6. Questions about the question. Some articles are provocative and they make us think. Rather than giving us an answer they ask a question. These are the best articles as far as I am concerned, since they can set up into a journey and open worlds we could not imagine. It is very useful to think for a while about the questions we are asked and how we can learn more about them. Do not just put a checkmark on the article, but try to plan your researh, enrich the original question with follow-up questions you may have

I hope this article will make you ask further questions and read more about socratic method and critical thinking. Asking the right question is 80% of the process, with the right questions asked finding the answer is easy.

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