I’m Too Literal to Process Bad Questions | Sat Jul 24, 2021

I can be very very literal. I think having a job as a networking server administrator for 20 years only helped cement my literal nature.

I understand that it can be difficult asking me a poorly structured question. Some examples of what I think are poorly structured questions are those with unclear/unknown parameters and those embedded with a generalization.

Question is which one or more generalizations look like this (generalization is highlighted):

  • Why do dog owners kiss their dogs in the mouth?
  • Why do most single guys date younger women?

Yesterday, one of my Turo drivers hit me with a question with unclear parameters that somehow nearly broke my brain. In fact the question what’s so bad that it took a concentrated effort for me do you not answer like an asshole. Side note: I want to be clear that the driver is a real nice guy. He just happened to ask a poorly structured question to a very literal person.

My Turo driver messaged me the following:

How much it takes from empty

Of course the question with no question mark bothered me, but I moved on from it. I put together that my guest driver was asking how much money does it cost to fill up the gas tank of the CRV. With voice to text technology being what it is, my driver could have asked that question as I just wrote it; I digress, again.

Before I tell you how I answered the question, i’ll share with you in one sentence what makes it a bad question. I don’t know how much gas costs per gallon at the gas station he might take the vehicle. I know the capacity of the CRV‘s gas tank.

I answered the question with as much relevant information as I could offer to answer it: the CRV‘s gas tank is 14 gallons.

Now, that information should be enough to answer your question if you’re trying to determine how much money it will cost to refill the vehicles gas tank. Unfortunately, my Turo driver double down on his question by reiterating that what he was is if the cost of filling up the CRV is $25-$30, for example. I was stumped.

I thought to myself, “Is he assuming I know what gas prices are today?”, “Is he trying to figure out how much I might charge him if he returns the vehicle without a full tank?”, OR “ If I don’t answer the question for at least 15 minutes, will he figure out that the cost to fill up the vehicle can be calculated by multiplying the capacity of the fuel tank in gallons by the price of 1 gallon of regular unleaded gas?”.

I didn’t post a screenshot of the messages exchanged because I feel like that’s super petty and tasteless.

All of this I say to express the importance of asking fully formed questions to people who are very literal, like myself.



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Michael P Wright

Michael P Wright is a Content Creator, Retired USAF Cyber Guy, and Black American Dad. michaelpwright.com/hi