How to Use Rhetorical Questions in an Essay
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
These lines are from William Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice wherein he uses consecutive rhetorical questions to evoke a sense of human empathy. Well, this literary technique certainly worked here because the speech does manage to move us and pushes us to think.
Writers have been incorporating rhetorical questions for centuries together. So, why not take an inspiration or two and include them in your college essays too?
A rhetorical question is a question asked more to create an impact or make a statement rather than getting an answer. It is a powerful literary device which when used effectively can add immense value to your writing.
Here’s Everything You Should Know About Using Rhetorical Questions in your Essays
Thinking of using rhetorical questions? Start with thinking about what you want your reader to take away from it. Craft it as a statement and then convert it into a rhetorical question. Make sure you use rhetorical questions in context to the larger point you are trying to make.
Let’s take a look at everything you must know about using this literary device to strengthen your writing.
When to Use Rhetorical Questions in Essays?
Wondering when you can use rhetorical questions? Here are 4 ways to tactfully use them to take your writing a notch higher and make your essays more thought-provoking.
We all know how important it is to start your essay with an interesting hook that grabs the reader’s attention and manages to keep them interested. Do you know what would make great essay hooks? Rhetorical questions.
When you begin with a rhetorical question, you make the reader reflect and give an indication of where you are headed with the essay. Instead of starting your essay with a dull, boring statement, posing a question to make a point is a lot more striking.
Here’s a video on how you can use rhetorical questions as essay hooks
What is the world without art?
Starting you essay on art with this question is a clear indication of the angle you are taking. This question does not seek an answer because it aims to make readers feel that the world would be a dreary place without art.
When you manage to trigger an emotional response and strike a chord with the reader, that is when your writing is considered to be truly effective.
Whether it’s evoking feelings of joy, sadness, rage, hope or disgust – using rhetorical questions does manage to stir the kind of emotional appeal you are going for. They do the work of subtly influencing readers to feel what you are feeling.
So, if you want readers to nod with agreement, using rhetorical questions to garner that response is a good idea which is exactly why they are commonly used in persuasive essays.
Doesn’t everyone have the right to be free?
What comes to your mind when you are met with this question? The obvious answer is – yes! This is a fine way to instill compassion and consideration among people.
Emphasize on a Point
Making a statement and following it up with a rhetorical question is a smart way to emphasize on it and drive the message home. It can be a disturbing statistic, well-known fact or even an argument you are presenting but when you choose to end it with a question, it tends to draw more emphasis and makes the reader sit up and listen.
In fact, sometimes, rather than saying it as a statement, inserting a question leaves a greater impact.
Between 700 and 800 racehorses are injured and die every year, with a national average of about two breakdowns for every 1,000 starts. How many more horses will be killed in the name of entertainment?
The question inserted after presenting such a startling statistic is more to express frustration and make the reader realize the gravity of the situation.
Make a Smooth Transition
One of the critical elements while writing an essay is the ability to make smooth transitions from one point or section to another. The essay needs to flow in logically while staying within the topic. Now, this is a tricky skill and not many get it right.
Using rhetorical questions is one way you can connect paragraphs and maintain the cohesiveness in writing. You can pose questions when you want to introduce a new point or conclude a point and emphasize on it.
Did you know that Ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the world’s biggest killers? Yes, they accounted for a combined 15.2 million deaths in 2016.
Writing an essay on the leading causes of death? This is a smart way to introduce the reason and then go on to explain it.
What are the Types of Rhetorical Questions?
Yes, there are types. Here are the 3 different kinds of rhetorical questions you can use in your essays.
This form of rhetorical question is meant to express disapproval or shame the reader. Not meant to obtain an answer, it is a way to convince the reader by demonstrating frustration or grief.
"Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?”
- Hamlet, William Shakespeare
This is used to express strong affirmation or denial. It usually implies an answer without giving the expectations of getting one. Erotesis or erotema is used to push the reader to ponder and reflect.
“O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests,
Glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little
- Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
When a question is raised and is immediately answered, it is referred to as hypophora. It is used in a conversational style of writing and aids in generating curiosity in the reader. It’s also a way to make smooth transitions in the essay, while letting the writer be in full control of the narrative.
What made me take this trip to Africa? There is no quick explanation. Things got worse and worse and worse and pretty soon they were too complicated.”
- Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow
Avoid These Mistakes While Using Rhetorical Questions in an Essay
Yes, there is a lot you can achieve and communicate with the use of rhetorical questions. However, it is important to use them sparingly and wherever appropriate. Rhetorical questions cannot be used in every piece of writing.
Here are 3 grave mistakes you must avoid while incorporating rhetorical questions.
Using Rhetorical Questions in Thesis Statements
Asking a rhetorical question in your thesis statement is an absolute no-no because thesis statements are meant to answer a question, not pose another question.
Through the thesis statement, you need to highlight the main argument of your essay and using this space to insert a rhetorical question is certainly a waste of space as it fails to give a clear indication of what your paper is about.
The right way to do this would be to start your introduction with a rhetorical question and end the introductory paragraph with a thesis statement which can answer the question raised.
Overusing Rhetorical Questions
Who’s to blame for climate change? How long will we deny the impending danger? What are we leaving for future generations?
Is this impactful? No. It’s irritating.
Subjecting the reader to an overdose of rhetorical questions, consequently or not, makes for an annoying reading experience.
While you might think you are creating an impact and driving your message home, the truth is, using too many rhetorical questions just makes it lose steam. It can overwhelm your readers and add no value to the essay.
So, for it to create the impact it should, it is important to craft a strong rhetorical question and use it sparingly.
Using Rhetorical Questions in Research Papers
Research papers require you to conduct research on a topic, take a stand and justify the claims you are making. It’s a formal piece of writing which needs to be based on facts and research.
The style of writing needs to be direct and straightforward. What’s more, the paper needs to give the reader answers and not pose more questions which explains why rhetorical questions are not appropriate for research papers.
So, keep this literary device for persuasive or argumentative essays and creative writing pieces instead of using them in research papers.
While rhetorical questions are effective literary devices, you should know when using a rhetorical question is worthwhile and if it adds value to the piece of writing.
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