Situation, Complication, Question, and Answer

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What is SCQA?

SCQA is an abbreviation that stands for Situation, Complication, Question, and Answer. The SCQA method is a framework used to structure information in a way that captures a reader’s attention. It is very important in business writing, as the reader is more likely to understand the text and agree with its message.

SCQA Diagram


  • SCQA is an effective method of making business writing more appealing and interesting to the reader.
  • SCQA stands for Situation, Complication, Question, and Answer.
  • Inverting the pyramid is another tactic to enhance readability. It simply reverses the structure of the text by presenting the conclusion first and then diving into the details around it.

Practical Example of SCQA

Below is a text sample that does not use the SCQA:

Sample Letter without SCQA

We can see that the passage above is hard to read and difficult to follow. It is long-winded, jumps from point to point, and is not logical in its presentation.

So, let’s look at the revised version of the abstract with the applied SCQA method:

Revised Letter with SCQA

Understanding SCQA

Based on the revised version, let’s look at each component of the SCQA:


Situation relates to the stability of the state of the world. It is the status quo and the norm. The writer should ask himself the following questions:

  • What is the context of what is happening?
  • Who are the players?

The sentence containing the situation in the passage is: “Steel Supplies is currently producing and selling steel bars at the capacity level of production.” The expression represents a statement that explains to the reader what is happening.


When it comes to Complication, it represents a change in the situation and is the reason why business writing is needed. Referring to the example above, the complication part of SCQA is depicted in the following sentence:

“However, the business is turning down orders because of capacity constraints.”

So now, as a reader, we know there is a huge demand for steel bars, but the company’s capacity does not currently allow for meeting the demand.


Question refers to the problem statement. After defining the problem, the next step is to develop a hypothesis. In other words, we start asking questions.

A hypothesis is usually falsifiable, which means it can be disproven. For example, “all corporations are profitable.” If you know one company that is not profitable, the hypothesis was wrong.

In our case, the question is hidden in the complication sentence: “However, the business is turning down orders because of capacity constraints.” After realizing the company cannot provide enough supply of steel bars to meet the demand, the question is: “How to create it?”


Finally, Answer is the process of fixing and answering the question raised. So, the answer in the example will be to increase the production level of steel bars by 23,800 tons per year backed up by the market research justifying the market potential.

Inverting the Pyramid

Inverting the pyramid refers to a method of writing organization that focuses on showing the most fundamental information in the beginning paragraph, and arranging the remaining details from most important to least important in later paragraphs.

It is named “Inverting the Pyramid” because we literally reverse the structure of the text, presenting the conclusion first and then going into more details.

We start business writing by accumulating raw data. Once it is done, we then assemble the key facts relating to the problem addressed and analyze the information in the text. Finally, we interpret the analysis to draw the conclusions and the recommendations of the writing.

The method above is a typical process of doing research and coming to a conclusion in business writing. When we want to effectively present the information, we turn around the process by inverting the pyramid.

Inverting the Pyramid - Example 1

To invert the pyramid, we need to state the conclusion first (see a letter sample below). It lets the reader immediately capture the most important part of the writing, showing them the essence right away. If the reader keeps reading, he can dive into how the writer interprets the conclusion and how he analyzed information. Typically, decision-makers come to a strategic decision based on the writer’s conclusion.

Inverting the Pyramid - Example 2

By showing the conclusions first, we save time by getting to the point immediately. The details are included further along and are pursued only if the reader is curious about the details and how the conclusion was drawn.

To put it simpler, let’s visualize the concept like it is a pyramid. Here, we aim to top our writing with the conclusion because it is the most important aspect and the purpose of writing. Then, we present an analysis based on our conclusions.

Finally, we include the facts and relevant details, which build the foundation of our analysis at the bottom of the pyramid.

Practical Example

Let’s again look at the same example of a letter that is written without using SCQA and inverting the pyramid:

Practical Example - Original Version

Reading the first paragraph shows us how different it can be by inverting the pyramid and using SCQA. All of the information for situation, complication, and question can be found in the first abstract. The rest of the text repeats the situation, complication, and question several times before the answer.

The passage above is clogged up with bits of data, making the passage longer and, thus, more complicated.

Now, compare the first letter to the second letter below:

Practical Example - Revised Version

The conclusion is placed immediately at the beginning (see the bold text on the image above), making the managing director of the company instantly aware from the main subject line of the letter. If he continues reading through the letter, he will notice the first sentence contains the situation, the second sentence includes the complication and question, and everything after is the answers.

The second letter is significantly shorter and more attention-grabbing by inverting the pyramid with SCQA. The type of writing is concise and effective, and it establishes a story that interests the reader.

Related Readings

CFI offers the Commercial Banking & Credit Analyst (CBCA)™ certification program for those looking to take their careers to the next level. To keep learning and developing your knowledge base, please explore the additional relevant resources below:

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