Okay, that should be “developmental questions,” but they are dynamite. Sunukjian and others have followed Robinson in making quite a fuss of these three questions. I would encourage you to do the same. The questions represent the three ways in which a stated idea can be developed. There are no other ways to develop an idea than in these three directions:
1. What does it mean? (Explain)
2. Is it true? (Prove)
3. What difference does it make? (Apply)
The great thing about knowing these three questions is that they are so versatile:
Use them in studying the passage – Unless the writer is moving on to a new idea, these three questions can help you understand what is going on in the passage. Not only do they move you toward an understanding of content, but also authorial intent – which is so valuable as you wrestle with a passage.
Use them in developing your main idea – Consider your listeners in order to determine which of the three developmental questions are needed to develop your message. If they don’t understand the idea, there’s no point jumping to application without further explanation. Just because people understand what you are saying, it doesn’t mean they are convinced – perhaps proof and support is needed?
Use them in developing each movement in the message – What works on a macro level also works in the chunks. With these three questions as keys to developing your ideas as you communicate, you need never scratch your head for things to say (few of us struggle with that), or simply pad the message with pointless filler materials (some of us may struggle with that!)
I don’t advocate a predictable and slavish repetition of these three questions under each point of a message. I know some that do and the result is both predictable and often unengaging, not to mention how it can turn every genre into a dissected discourse. However, it is not a bad discipline to be asking yourself these three questions, both in study of the passage and in preparation of the message.