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I've never really understood how どうした works and hope someone can explain or point me towards further reading.

For example, in my textbook, the following question is asked in relation to a short passage:

母親の気持ちに対して、住友君はどうしましたか?

The passage describes a young man, Sumitomo-kun, who from about the time he entered elementary school attended juku. The passage explains that because his mother felt the schools you attended were important to succeeding in life she sent him from this age despite thinking at some level that it was too early.

The answer to this question seems to be in the following part:

「心を鬼にして塾へ送り出してくれた」母親を喜ばせてやろうと、一生懸命勉強し、県下でも有数の公立の進学高校に入学。

What I don't understand is why the question used どうした. Could it have used 何をした instead?

More broadly, what are the differences between the two questions?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

どうする is more general than 何をする. The latter is more related to a specific event, whereas the former asks for a general course of action.

I would thus say that you could translate the sentence as

母親の気持ちに対して、住友君はどうしましたか?
How did Sumitomo-kun react to his mother's feelings?

rather than

What specifically did Sumitomo-kun do with regards to his mother's feelings?

Maybe the difference between 何を and どう is like the difference between a countable and an uncountable quantity, if that makes any sense.

For example, "What do you want to do?" would usually be translated as どうする?, because you are asking for a general course of action. 何をする comes closer to "Which one do you want to do?". E.g., imagine a situation in an amusement park.

どうする?もう帰る?また乗り物に乗る?
What do you want to do? Go home? Or go on another ride?

何をする?乗り物に乗る?それとも、先にポップコーンを食べる?
(Given that we are in an amusement park) What do you want to do (here)? Do you want to go on a ride or eat some popcorn first?

You should also be aware that there is the fixed expression

どうした?
What's wrong (with you)? or
What's up?

which is very common in conversational Japanese.

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Thanks, this is a terrific answer and makes things quite clear :) –  pyrmont Nov 6 '12 at 16:19
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