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. This literary technique certainly worked here because the speech manages to move us and pushes us to think.
Writers have been incorporating rhetorical questions together for centuries. So, why not take inspiration and include them in your college essays too?
A rhetorical question is asked more to create an impact or make a statement rather than get an answer. When used effectively, it is a powerful literary device that can add immense value to your writing.
How to Use Rhetorical Questions in an Essay
Thinking of using rhetorical questions? Start 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 more significant point you are trying to make.
Let’s examine 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 four 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 keeps 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 indicate where you are headed with the essay. Instead of starting your essay with a dull, bland 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 your 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 dreary without art.
Your writing is considered genuinely effective when you trigger an emotional response and strike a chord with the reader.
Whether it’s evoking feelings of joy, sadness, rage, hope, or disgust, rhetorical questions can stir the 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 the agreement, using rhetorical questions to garner that response is a good idea, which is 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 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, a 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.
Sometimes, rather than saying it as a statement, inserting a question leaves a more significant impact.
Between 700 and 800 racehorses are injured and die yearly, with a national average of about two breakdowns for every 1,000 starts. How many will more horses 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 logically while staying within the topic. This is a tricky skill, and few get it right.
Using rhetorical questions is one way to connect paragraphs and maintain cohesiveness in writing. You can pose questions when you want to introduce a new point or conclude a point and emphasize 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 an intelligent way to introduce the reason and then go on to explain it.
Types of Rhetorical Questions
Yes, there are types. Here are the three different kinds of rhetorical questions you can use in your essays.
This rhetorical question is meant to express disapproval or shame to 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 erotica 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 completely control 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
3 Mistakes You Must AVOID while Incorporating Rhetorical Questions
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.
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 central argument of your essay. Using this space to insert a rhetorical question is certainly a waste of space as it fails to indicate 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 that 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 isn’t enjoyable.
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 makes it lose steam. It can overwhelm your readers and add no value to the essay.
So, to create the impact it should, it is crucial to craft a solid rhetorical question and use it sparingly.
Using Rhetorical Questions in Research Papers
Research papers require you to research a topic, take a stand and justify your claims. It’s a formal piece of writing that must be based on facts and research.
The style of writing needs to be straightforward. Moreover, the paper needs to give the reader answers and not pose more questions, which explains why rhetorical questions are inappropriate 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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Last edit at Dec 23 2022