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Question Marks in Academic Writing

As a rule, question marks are not allowed in academic writing. However, sometimes they are clearly warranted. For example, question marks may be used as a part of a research question or quote. Also, very rarely, the author of an academic paper could address a question for the reader and prepare him for further discussion.

Formal Writing and Question Marks

There are some tips on how to avoid inappropriate question marks or use them logically in the paper. The most practical tips are shown below.

  • Questions could be transformed into reported speech or statement. For example: "What is the easiest way to solve the problem of global warming?" could be reformulated into "One of the most topical questions among scientists is the easiest way to solve the problem of global warming".
  • The logic of the sentence is important. If there is a phrase "The question is" in the beginning, it is better to use a question mark rather than a period, even though the intonation is affirmative. For example: "The question is, what is the easiest way to solve the problem of global warming?"
  • Rhetorical questions are inappropriate. Usually, they are useless in formal writing and could be easily removed without information loss.

Rhetorical Question: to Uncover and Destroy

When it comes to academic writing, rhetorical questions are a common problem. Fortunately, there are some stylistic tips that can be used to reformulate them. Read on the table!

Rhetorical question type Alternative
The question that is used to attract attention and doesn’t need a response. For example:
"What is not to magic?"
Relevant quotes. Example:
Steven King said, "Books are a uniquely portable magic."
The question that has a well-known answer. For example:
"How many fingers do we have?"
Statements that start with the phrases "No doubt", "It is a well-known fact" and so on.
The question that is leading a reader to the unusual view. For example:
"How could we be sure that an ex-prisoner won't commit another crime?"
Memorable examples.
"45% of ex-prisoners exclaimed that they are going to commit a return crime. The well-known killer Adam Newman confessed in the book "Red diary" that violation is like a narcotic."

Common Pitfalls

Nevertheless, question marks are rare in academic writing; they could easily confuse authors on some occasions. The common pitfalls are:

⚪ Using question marks in the quotes
If a question mark is related to the quote, it should be placed before quotation marks. Otherwise — after them. However, sometimes there could be nuances in American English. Read about them in subheadings "National Circumstances".
Example 1: He said: "Will you marry me?"
Example 2: Do you agree with the statement, "If you wish for peace, prepare for war"?
⚪ Distinguishing questions and indirect speech
The part of the question in indirect speech that is represented as a statement doesn't require a question mark.
Wrong❌: I wonder if he would write this test?
Right✔️: I wonder if he would write this test.
⚪ Using question marks with other punctuation marks
The question marks are sometimes used with exclamation marks. However, such a combination is not allowed in formal writing.

National Circumstances

There are some nuances with question marks usage in different countries. One of them is British English quotation specific. It is acceptable to use a period or other quotation mark after question mark in the quote. In USA, such a combination is a mistake. However, to avoid misunderstanding it is better to use one punctuation mark (before or after quotation) in both types of language.

🇬🇧 🇺🇸
✔️Tom asked, "What is your favorite book?" Tom asked, "What is your favorite book?"
✔️Did Tom ask: "What is your favorite book?"? Did Tom ask: "What is your favorite book?"?
✔️Did Tom ask: "What is your favorite book"? ✔️Did Tom ask: "What is your favorite book"?

In Spain, the inverted question marks are used (¿). The foreign authors could put them in the text with keyboard shortcuts:

  • ⚪ Alt+Ctrl+?
  • ⚪ 00bf +Alt+X

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