Rhetoric & Composition I: Winter Quarter 2013 Rotating Header Image

St. Martin’s Page 44 / 3a Exploring an issue

Note that I have adapted and revised “topic” from the St. Martin’s Guide to “issue,” because topics are subjects that people talk, think, and write about and may cover a broad area of inquiry, whereas “issues” have arguable positions or fundamental tensions between two or more ideas that are in conflict with one another.

A basic strategy for exploring your issue and generating ideas is simply to ask and answer question:

Questions to describe an issue

Originally developed by Aristotle, the following questions can help you explore a topic by carefully and systematically describing it:

  • What is it? What are its characteristics, dimensions, features, and parts? What do your senses tell you about it?
  • What caused it? What changes occurred to create your issue? How is it changing? How will it change?
  • What is it like or unlike? What features differentiate your topic from others? What analogies can you make about your topic?
  • What larger system is the issue a part of? How does your issue relate to this system?
  • What do people say about it? What reactions does your issue arouse? What about the issue causes those reactions?

Questions to explain an issue

The well-known questions who, what, when, where, why, and how, widely used by news reporters, are especially helpful for explaining an issue:

  • Who is doing it?
  • What is at issue?
  • When does it take place?
  • Where is it taking place?
  • Why does it occur?
  • How is it done?