In academic writing, and in most QualityGal freelance writing work, rhetorical questions are not appropriate. A rhetorical question is one for which no answer is required or expected. These are used in written text when the writer assumes that the individual reading the content will know the answer, or the writer continues on to answer the question in the content. In content such as ours points can be made more clearly when the information alluded to in the question is included as a statement. By asking a question the reader may or may not know the answer to, you run the risk of your point not actually being made.
[Note: We now have an updated take on this topic here: You might want to give it a look.]
As a writer it can be tempting to ask a lot of questions of the reader while writing. We’re all guilty of falling prey to the rhetorical question trap from time to time. For whatever reason, we believe that by asking a question we are making a point; and sometimes we are. Rhetorical questions can be an effective way to gain the interest of the audience, but, QualityGal clients are rarely looking for projects littered with questionable (see what I did there? Oh, I did it again!) content. Filling projects with questions can look like filler content that doesn’t add any real value to the page itself. You don’t want to run the risk of sounding like a used car salesman or a cheesy credit check commercial so try to avoid the rhetorical question whenever possible. It is usually pretty easy to turn rhetorical questions into statements. Take a look at this resource (point number 4) for more information.
When Rhetorical Questions are Okay
Rhetorical questions can be appropriate at times. If, for example, you are working on a freelance writing job project that is meant to be read by children, or a blog as blogs are meant to be much more informal, asking questions can be a great way to engage the reader and keep them interested. Also, when optimizing projects there may be times when the content you are working on already has some rhetorical questions in it. Those questions are okay, but please don’t add more questions to those that already exist. One question can draw attention, two may be okay, but avoid asking more than two rhetorical questions in any given project. This is less of a rule and more of guideline. If you are not completely sure about when they are okay consider this: it isn’t for kids and the questions don’t already exist on a page being optimized, probably best to avoid asking them all together.
As always if you are ever unsure of what is appropriate and what isn’t, the QG staff is happy to answer any questions you may have.