“only the questions”

That is the name of this simple and elegant online tool (pictured below) created by Clive Thompson, a tech journalist, author, and developer of another similar web tool called “just the punctuation” that I blogged about last year (see here).

To the point, Thompson’s new “only the questions” tool allows you to delete all the regular declarative statements and exclamatory sentences from a text, leaving only those sentences or phrases consisting of questions. FYI, here is an extended excerpt from his essay “The power of seeing only the questions in a piece of writing” (ellipsis in the original):

When we’re writing, why do we ask questions? Sometimes they’re rhetorical, like the one I just asked now. They’re a literary signpost, a little trick for ushering the reader along: Great question, glad you asked, let me answer that one! Other times the questions are truly … questions. They come from the moments where we’re genuinely humble, and have arrived at the limits of our knowledge. We’re just thinking out loud, and, ideally, trying to find a really good question, one that frames our ignorance in a productive fashion. Many thinkers — from Socrates to my personal fave literary scholar Northrop Frye — argued that the acme of intellectual life wasn’t in knowing stuff but devising the truly puzzling, awe-inspiring questions that echo in the mind for years.

By way of example, when Thompson put in all of George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”, he got back this:

A screenshot of the result of processing the text, beginning with this: “Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity? Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a “rift,” for instance?) A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer?”

Postscript: Regarding your data privacy, Thompson adds (link in the original): “Whatever text you type into the tool isn’t saved or stored anywhere. You can check out the code on Glitch if you want to be sure, and remix it and reuse it yourself if you want.” For my part, I am going to try out Clive Thompson’s new “only the questions” tool on my own work and report my results in the next day or two.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to “only the questions”

  1. Reblogged this on prior probability and commented:

    Following up on my previous post, which I am reblogging below, I put parts 1 and 2 of my “intellectual autobiography” into Clive Thompson’s “only the questions” online tool, and this is what I got back:

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