Request for Solution

Requests for Solution arise when there’s a problem to be solved. A clear explanation of the problem at hand is essential to crafting good Rival Recommendations. Given this, the contextual considerations of a RFS include Ordinary Conditions and Distinguishing Conditions. The Distinguishing Condition is a problem to be explained using the Investigation structure developed in the previous section of this text.

In this way, Investigations embed within Requests for Solution.

Formalisation of Request for Solution

Recommendation Request (RFS) is a well-framed question that asks for a solution regarding how to proceed in some given context.

Ordinary Conditions (OC) are descriptions of relevant, normal features of the given circumstances. This is a description of the relevant context.

Distinguishing Conditions (DC) are descriptions of unexpected effects or results in the given circumstancesThis is a problem to be explained.

Rival Recommendations (RR) are suggested courses of action in the given circumstances.

Supporting Resources (SR) are descriptions of the circumstances under which the extra-ordinary events are happening, or under which the recommendation is made.

Best Recommendation (BR) is the recommendation we offer as best among the possibilities.

Ordinary Conditions

Ordinary Conditions (OC) are descriptions of relevant, normal features of the given circumstance. They provide the context that gives significance to the Distinguishing Conditions.

When constructing a RFS, you must use your judgement to determine which ordinary events will provide a clear contrast to the distinguishing case. Supporting Resources, as developed above, resemble Ordinary Conditions. However, Ordinary Conditions do not underwrite or undermine Rival Recommendations.

Ordinary Conditions, combined with Supporting Resources, should give a clear picture of the context in which the Distinguishing Conditions under consideration occur.

For example, in the case of the hard-starting car (Example 1.1), we might specify certain conditions we deem relevant to the recommendation request. It might be that our car usually starts on the first try in warm weather, but that it might take two or three goes before it starts in sub-freezing temperatures. Given this, it will be useful to make the weather conditions explicit.

If, for example, the weather is sub-freezing, and the car won’t start, our recommendations will likely include heating up certain parts of the car, or the whole car if possible, in order to facilitate easy starting. A Supporting Resource might include: electric engine block warmers are known to facilitate easier starting of a car in very cold environments. Notice how this resource might help a particular Rival Recommendation, but is not part of the Ordinary Conditions under which we try to start a car; it’s a fact about starting cars that is relevant to our recommendation.

Distinguishing Conditions

Distinguishing Conditions (DC) are descriptions of unexpected effects or results in the given circumstances. In Requests for Solution, these get explained.

The hard-starting car case helps to illustrate: if our interest is in determining what we should do to make the car start, then we need to know why it isn’t starting. In Example 1.1, we determined that a car wouldn’t start because of an electrical failure. This is a useful conclusion that will guide our recommendations.

Cars might fail to start for a variety of reasons. The fuel tank might be empty, the spark plugs could be fouled, there could be electrical problems, compression problems, clogged fuel lines or injectors, the wrong fuel in the car, and so forth. Without having an explanation of the failure, we are not in a position to make a Best Recommendation. For example, if we know the problem is electrical, as it was in Example 1.1, we wouldn’t first recommend filling the fuel tank.

In general, Best Recommendations rely on Best Explanations of Distinguishing Conditions. Explanations nest in recommendations.

A WARNING about the “Point-by-point” problem:

When transposing the formal structure of a Request for Solution into prose, you might be tempted to offer a Rival Recommendation for each Rival Explanation in your investigation of the Distinguishing Conditions. Doing so causes confusion, and it technically incorrect.

When you offer a recommendation for each Rival Explanation, then the recommendations you offer do not, in fact, rival each other. It is only once you offer a Best Explanation that you can offer recommendations that are truly rivals.

For example, if the Rival Explanations of the hard-starting car are:

RE1: Fouled spark plugs

RE2: Short in the ignition wiring

Then recommended solutions to each of these explanations are not, themselves, Rival Recommendations. Notice, the Request for Solution would be something like:

RFS: How can we get the car started?

Replacing the spark plugs and finding a short in the ignition are not competing Rival Recommendations. One of them, namely replacing the spark plugs, does not address the Best Explanation of why the car won’t start, which is that there is an electrical problem.

In summary:

First, explain the problem posed by the Distinguishing Condition

Second, offer Rival Recommendations to solve that problem.

Last modified: Wednesday, 7 February 2018, 10:03 PM