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Consistent terminology

Do you know what a closed question is?

I’m sure I didn’t learn about open and closed questions until much later, but my children have been learning this in primary school. This is a good thing as it can help them communicate socially as well as within their school work.

Closed questions – elicits a simple response such as “do you like blue or green?” where a one word response answers the question.

Open (or open ended) questions – give scope for more detailed and complex responses such as “why is blue your favourite colour?” or “what do you like about that book?” which require longer answers and can lead to a discussion.

Have you ever heard questions referred to as thin and thick questions instead of open and closed?

The first time I knew of the thin/thick nomenclature was when I viewed some work my daughter had done at school. I know enough about open and closed questions to figure out what was meant by thin and thick so I could interpret the schoolwork very quickly. And I assumed the children had been taught thin/thick instead of open/closed.

Then I read the schoolwork in more detail.

Schoolwork with different terms in use = confusing!

The instructions swap between thick/thin and open/closed questions without any explanation that they are the same concept (and not even in the same order which makes it even harder to correlate the paris of words). Given that this activity is obviously aimed at teaching children about open/closed questions, surely it would be better to use the same terminology for the one activity.

It’s one thing for me as a professional writer to read these instructions and follow them easily, but something else entirely for a seven year old who is grappling with what these terms mean and how to find examples of each type!

And my daughter said they had been taught about open/closed questions – she figured it out (and I think she did a good job devising relevant questions in the activity) but I’m sure many of her classmates would have struggled if they were left to do this activity just by reading the instructions.

The lesson?

Stay consistent!

If you start using one term (or set of terms) when writing, then continue using that term throughout.

Even if you explain there are alternatives, stick to one term in your content. For instance, if you are writing about saving money, you may write something like

Contributing to your savings can be done more or less frequently. Contributions, also known as deposits or account credits, will attract interest and thus increase your savings over time. When deciding how much to contribute, you may consider your income, expenses and lifestyle choices.

You may not be writing for children, and your audience may easily figure out your message, but why make it harder to read than necessary? Why risk them not understanding and/or disengaging in your content?

Being consistent makes your writing easier to read and understand, looks more professional and will probably help search engines recognise a keyword in your online writing.