Who, What, Where, When, Why & How?

The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life. ~ Confucius

Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text or solving mathematical problems. These are excellent questions to ask everytime you learn something new or even revisiting previous text or problems.

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Rudyard Kipling


The question ‘Who’ brings people into the frame, connecting them with actions and things. The ‘Who’ of many situations includes ‘stakeholders’, who are all the people with an interest in the action. Key people to identify are those who will pay for and receive the benefits of the action. Of course, you also may want to know who is going to do the work and whose neck is on the line — that is who is ultimately responsible.

Who is saying it? (What is the position of the speaker and what is influencing them?)


‘What?’ often asks for noun responses, seeking things that are or will be. They may also prompt for verbs when they seek actions.

What is happening? (Gather basic information and begin to think of questions. What other information do I need? What don’t I see?)

What other ideas exist and are there other possibilities?


‘Where’ seeks to locate an action or event in three-dimensional space. This can be simple space, such as on, above, under, below. It can be regional space, such as next door or in the other building. It can be geographic space, such as New York, London or Paris. If something is going to be delivered or done, then asking ‘Where’ is a very good companion to asking ‘When’, in order to clarify exactly what delivery will take place.


‘When’ seeks location in time and can imply two different types of time. ‘When’, first of all, can ask for a specific single time, for example when a person will arrive at a given place or when an action will be completed. ‘When’ may also seek a duration, a period of time, such as when a person will take a holiday.


Asking ‘why’ seeks cause-and-effect. If you know the reason why people have done something, then you gain a deeper understanding of them. If you know how the world works, then you may be able to affect how it changes in the future. Asking ‘why’ seeks logical connections and shows you to be rational in your thinking. It can also be a good way of creating a pause or distraction in a conversation, as many people make assertive statements but without knowing the real ‘why’ behind those assertions. A reversal of ‘Why’ is to ask ‘Why not’, which is a wonderful creative challenge for stimulating people to think ‘outside the box’.

Why is my data behaving in this way?


‘How’ seeks verbs of process. They are hence good for probing into deeper detail of what has happened or what will happen. ‘How’ may also be used with other words to probe into time and quantity.

How do I know? (Ask yourself where the information is coming from and how was it constructed.)

A simple framework for solving problems may be defined by combining What, Why and How, is as follows:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. How can you solve it?
  3. Solve it.
  4. Why did it work or not work?
  5. Who can I reach out to help solve the problem if needed?
  6. What next?

The Six Types of Socratic Questions

Socratic questioning is at the heart of critical thinking. Here are R.W. Paul’s six types of Socratic questions:

Questions for clarification

  • Why do you say that?
  • How does this relate to our discussion?
  • “Are you going to include diffusion in your mole balance equations?”

Questions that probe assumptions

  • What could we assume instead?
  • How can you verify or disapprove that assumption?
  • “Why are neglecting radial diffusion and including only axial diffusion?”

Questions that probe reasons and evidence

  • What would be an example?
  • What is….analogous to?
  • What do you think causes to happen…? Why?
  • “Do you think that diffusion is responsible for the lower conversion?”

Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives

  • What would be an alternative?
  • What is another way to look at it?
  • Would you explain why it is necessary or beneficial, and who benefits?
  • Why is the best?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of…?
  • How are…and …similar?
  • What is a counterargument for…?
  • “With all the bends in the pipe, from an industrial/practical standpoint, do you think diffusion will affect the conversion?”

Questions that probe implications and consequences

  • What generalizations can you make?
  • What are the consequences of that assumption?
  • What are you implying?
  • How does…affect…?
  • How does…tie in with what we learned before?
  • “How would our results be affected if neglected diffusion?”

Questions about the question

  • What was the point of this question?
  • Why do you think I asked this question?
  • What does…mean?
  • How does…apply to everyday life?
  • “Why do you think diffusion is important?”

“Six Types of Socratic Questions”. 2022. psychology.illinoisstate.edu. https://psychology.illinoisstate.edu/aehouse/421/421%20log%20folder/Socratic%20questioning.html.

Must Watch

Answer these question once you watch it: Why did no one ask questions? Would you have stopped the instructor to ask questions?

Pluralistic Ignorance

Pluralistic ignorance occurs when individual members of a group have a value or belief that differs from what they believe the values or beliefs of the rest of the group to be. This misconception of others’ values causes the group members to act in ways that differ from what they believe in. Pluralistic ignorance is a systematic error in our estimation of the beliefs of other people. We guess at the group members’ beliefs and norms based upon our observations, and our guess is wrong.

Suggested Reading

“10 Reasons Why Math Is Important In Life [Guide + Examples]”. 2018. piday.org. https://www.piday.org/10-reasons-why-math-is-important-in-life/

“13 Reasons Why Math Is Important”. 2021. lifehacks.io. https://lifehacks.io/reasons-why-math-is-important/.

“4 Reasons To Study Mathematics”. 2021. leedsisc.com. https://www.leedsisc.com/news/why-study-mathematics.

“Kipling Questions”. 2021. changingminds.org. http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/kipling_questions.htm.

“Why You Should Study Mathematics”. 2017. bachelorstudies.com. https://www.bachelorstudies.com/article/why-you-should-study-mathematics/.

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