The Questions Matter

Don’t Quit Your Day Job asked, “Should engineers and business majors pay higher tuition?” a while back.

I read that and wondered if the answers would be any different if the question were phrased differently. What if, instead of asking whether some majors should pay a higher tuition, we asked whether some majors should pay a reduced tuition?

Not because of the differences in the cost to educate the different majors (because I’m not all that convinced that there is such an enormous difference) but because of the differences in likely pay afterward. After all, we know that social workers and teachers typically make much less money than say, an engineer or a manager.

You might get a different answer, right? (Or at the very least, come up with different arguments.)

That’s because the questions you ask matter.

Ask a different question, get a different answer

And “Ask a different question, get a different answer” applies to everything, not just discussions about college costs or student loans.

For example, think about the difference between these two questions:

“Will I ever be rich?” and “How can I become rich?”

Base assumptions

The base assumptions in both cases are completely different.

In the first case, you’re not even sure whether it’s possible to become rich. You might look at your current bank balance and compare it to that of wealthy people, and decide that with such an enormous gulf you don’t even have a chance. So you don’t even try.

But asking how you can become rich means that somewhere inside, you already believe it’s possible.

You don’t waste your time on self-doubt. Instead, you get started. You take a look at how others have done the same, figure out a plan, and then put it into action. If you do have the occasional doubt later, you’re more easily able to just brush it aside and press on.

Ask yourself the right questions

So when you have a dream that you want to accomplish, ask yourself the right questions: How can you get to where you want to be? Who can help you get there? What can you get started on right now?

Then go for it.


  • Asking the right question always gets the right answer. This does not mean the answer is the one you will like. Over the years, I found that I have a talent or skill to ask the right questions, I think it has helped me achieve my goals.

    • That’s true. Sometimes you aren’t too fond of the answers once you ask the right questions, but if you really want to accomplish something, once that happens the path will be clear.

  • You’re absolutely right, but after I asked if some majors should pay higher interest on student loans I knew I had to target my own major, haha.

    Your point is incredibly important when it comes to polling. Usually when you read polling data the different ways a question is asked are listed in the cross tabs so people can determine if there was any bias. For example, a political question might be phrased two or three different ways, and if it is multiple choice people will be asked in a different order. Also, in medicine, results vary wildly if you ask about a treatment in terms of the chance for survival versus the chance for death.

    • Oh that’s so true. And what’s bad about political polling is that when the results are presented in the format of “x% of people believe y” you rarely know what they were actually asked.

  • This is a great post. I love the critical thinking evident within it. Very enjoyable. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

  • It seems hard to climb a mountain, but with a lot of many small steps you can do it.

    P.S. Is that how your debt snowball apps actually look? It’s a pretty attractive design.

    • Do you mean the image in my sidebar? If so, that’s how the iPad version looks. The iPhone version is different, although I’m in the process of getting a redesign done for that now.

  • I suppose what we’re discussing is a market-based solution to degree pricing. As it is, are we saying that the more prestigious degrees are subsidizing the more “fluffy” degrees like sociology & political science?

  • Asking the right questions shows that you have the right attitude to get things done.
    Nicely put Jackie.

  • I like the “now” tone of your post. While I do think that thinking/planning can make a big difference, it’s also very important to just get started with forward momentum immediately. Overcoming inertia seems like it can be half the battle in many cases.

    • You’ve got that right, especially when it comes to getting started on something new. I know I often have a lot of resistance to doing new things, but once I finally start I wonder why I didn’t do so sooner.

  • My understanting is that it costs a lot more to provide classes that require labs and equipment, such as sciences and nursing. I remember in our Physics class, we had a lot of lab equipment to conduct experiments. In classes like english and history, the school doesn’t need any of that.

    However, the school usually charges lab fees for those classes, so they recoup the costs in a fair manner.

    • I’m sure costs do vary depending on the types of classes. (Although I’d thought science classes were required regardless of the major…) At any rate, check out DQYDJ’s blog for more on that particular subject :)

  • I agree completely! We really need to incorporate “how” into our goals to make them achievable. Progress is so much easier when we break down tasks and have specific goals. And asking ourselves the right questions can make a world of difference. I like your example, “Will I ever be rich?” and “How can I become rich?”. -Sydney

  • I agree as well! The way you ask really does matter – framing is key to the answers you will get. However, how you frame a question also raises questions about your own pre-disposition to a set of answers!