Let's imagine we meet a scientist who has just invented a robot which according to him is a pretty great achievement. However, when we see it, it looks simple and doesn't look like someone has to do a great amount of analysis and modelling to make it. How do we ask the scientist about how this robot, which he claims to be one of his masterpieces, is so special when it doesn't look like a big deal to us? We could try:

Is this really difficult to invent?

Is this really such a big deal?

This sounds as if we are disparaging his efforts. What would be the right way to ask the same? I would like to know the challenges he faced while making it and why his product was noble. The question is not just limited to a scientist, it could be applicable to almost anyone who is in some or other profession and has done something great.

  • The OP wants phrasing to communicate something, and I think the OP has pretty well described what he wants to communicate. I don't think this is subjective enough to be closed as primarily opinion-based. Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 15:52
  • @JimReynolds Thanks for the support. This has been happening too frequently on ELL these days for me. Not just flagging, but also the number of viewers for any particular question is pretty low here! I don't know why. Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 16:27

2 Answers 2


Since you have used the politeness tag...

You could ask:

What is it about this robot that makes it an advance?

That form of the question acknowledges that it may well be an advance over current art, while expressing the doubts you have based on the thing's rudimentary appearance.

An alternative construction

What makes this robot an advance?

is more like a challenge to its inventor, and could be taken as scoffing.

I assume we're talking about writing, where tone of voice is difficult to encode. In speech, politeness is 80% tone of voice, 20% word choice.


"Is this really such a big deal?" might come off too harsh on him. He might get offended too. You should ask him in a polite way. If you offend him, it is very unlikely that he explains things to you properly. He might just swear the living hell out of you. So you have to be very careful, at the same time ask a question in a way that he doesn't find it annoying to answer. After all, we do not want to piss off a scientist. You could try a few questions like :

  1. How hard was building a robot ?
  2. What all did you have to sacrifice to create something revolutionary as this robot ?
  3. What does your robot posses that makes it unique ?
  4. How does your robot look so simple and yet be so complex ?

The main intention is to make him feel great about his work. A happy and proud scientist can go on and on about his work. From that, I'm sure you'll get to know all that you need to know. Even though it may look simple and is simple to create, you best talk to him as if he just gave life to the greatest invention on this planet. That way, he'll let you in on all the little things you can do to make things right and he'll pretty much give you a lot of tips to build your own robot. Its a bit sly, but that's pretty normal in this world. Cheers !

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