2.2 From question to method

2.2.2 Know, Want, Learned (KWL)

In 2002, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld made this statement in a press conference, in response to a question about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: 

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

While many have ridiculed Rumsfeld for using these words in this context, he actually articulated an idea that scientists have understood and respected for ages. These three concepts, 'known knowns', 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns', are very relevant for an exploration of your research question. They are also closely related to a method of learning known as KWL, which stands for 'what I know', 'what I want to learn,' and 'what I learned' (Donna Ogle, 1986). Figure 2.2.2a offers a visual representation.

Figure 2.2.2a - Know, Want, Learned diagram
This version of the KWL diagram incorporates the notions of 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns'

This is to say that...

  • you already start with some knowledge on the topic
  • you are both aware and unaware of your 'blind spots'
  • you clearly know what you want to find out
  • you are aware of some of the things you need to find out
  • your research focuses on discovering the 'known unknowns'
  • you may discover both the expected and the unexpected.


  • Donna M. Ogle, K-W-L: A Teaching Model That Develops Active Reading of Expository Text, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 39, No. 6 (Feb., 1986), pp. 564-570;
  • DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, Feb. 12, 2002 http://archive.defense.gov/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?TranscriptID=2636
2.2.2b - Donald Rumsfeld in 2002
What are your 'known unknowns'?



  1. If you haven't already made a mind map of 'what you know' (See Page 2.2.1), do so! You can make list in the left column of the KWL worksheet. 
  2. What are the 'known unknowns' of your research question? What do you want to know? Make a list in the middle column of the KWL worksheet.
  3. You will notice that the last column of the worksheet can be used to document what you have learned.   


Use the KWL structure for your Researcher's Reflection Space (RRS). Refer to your 'known knowns' and 'known unknowns' in your initial RPPF session.