Social Q&A provides the possibility of looking into how people verbally express their information needs in natural language. In this study, we analyzed linguistic properties of different types of questions on the topic of eating disorders in Yahoo! Answers. Using term frequency analysis, Part-of-Speech (POS) analysis, and sentiment analysis, we examined linguistic content, linguistic style, and emotional expressions in two broad categories of eating disorder questions from Yahoo! Answers – socio-emotional questions and informational questions.

Overall, the results of this study show that the language used in these two categories of questions are substantially different, suggesting the different nature of the needs that underlie these questions. Socio-emotional questions take similar characteristics to personal narratives, focusing on past experiences and emotions. The heavy use of negative emotion words in this question type, along with other distinct linguistic characteristics, suggests that a key motivation of users asking this type of question is to work through their emotions related to the given health issue (eating disorders). On the other hand, informational questions show traits of relatively complex, precise, and objective writing, and reflect much varied interests with regard to the topic of eating disorders.

All in all, this study demonstrates that the combination of simple text analytic techniques reveals much about the linguistic characteristics associated with different kinds of questions, and thereby shed lights on the nature of the needs underneath the questions.