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What Is A “How Long Is Piece of String” Question?

Piece of String QuestionI often say “that’s a how long is a piece of string question” when someone asks me about freelance writing.

What I’m driving at when I use this question is something along the lines of “I have no clue. And neither does anyone else.”

Unless you’re showing me a particular piece of string the question simply cannot be answered – not really.

There are lots of questions that are similar. For example, “how high is up?” and in today’s world, “how long is a web page” also qualifies.

Curious about why I’ve included the length of a web page? Because, at least in theory, you can put a whole website and a bunch more on what is technically a single page. You’ve probably run into sites were you keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. There’s no absolute limit on the length of a website… oh there are practical limits, but there’s even disagreement about what that is.

What’s wrong with a piece of string question?

By and large the real problem with a piece of string question and others like them is they are sloppy. That is, unless the person is trying to make a point about the poor quality of such a question, they reflect badly on the user.

Sometimes they reflect the ignorance of the questioner. The person who asks “what’s the going rate for freelance writing?” or even one that seem more specific, “How much should I charge for my article” can’t be answered in any helpful way. How many pages, topic, market and your reputation in the field and ability to write are all factors. Anyone who has been a freelance writer or even researched it some has a pretty firm grasp on the impossibility of answering such questions without lots more information.

Turns out there is an answer

Someone with a quick mind and a grasp of geometry might answer the how long is a piece of string question this way: ““A piece of string is twice as long as half its length.” Which is true. No, I didn’t figure this out but found it as a result of a google query at Prescient Digital Media. They are an internet, digital media consulting firm.

Of course that answer, which Prescient also recognizes, just shows how silly the question is. We still know nothing, nor can we, about the actual length of that darn string.

A pause for thinking a bit before you speak or write will go a long way toward helping you avoid this type of impossible to answer questions. If you mean them as irony, fine – just don’t let them in unconsciously.

Make sense?

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman freelance writer

Thought about working with me as your writing and/or life coach? Check out Life Coaching On Purpose – and fill out the form, or email me.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Sue Chehrenegar

    I am going to remember your answer. It would make a good reply to a riddle, a riddle created from the crazy question that you asked: How long is a piece of string?

    My grandson loves riddles.

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