Asking Rhetorical Questions In Essays Are Movies

Why shouldn’t one use rhetorical questions in college application essays?

What’s so wrong with them?

Do college admissions committees really frown when they see a question mark in an essay?

Are you tired of this string of questions?

Do you wonder if we’re going to give you an answer anytime soon?

Don’t worry, we are.

If you haven’t guessed already, using rhetorical questions in your college application essays is one of those cringe-worthy mistakes that can significantly detract from an otherwise stellar essay, and even ding your application.

Why, you ask?

In a nutshell, it’s all about word count. Application essays almost universally have a pretty tight word limit, meaning every word you put down is valuable, and rhetorical questions are a waste of that precious resource. They don’t tell a story or convey your passion, and they are, by nature, impersonal. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what you want to do in an application essay, especially The Common App… where you should tell a story, share your passions, and get personal.

Even rhetorical questions at their best tend to serve only to introduce a point you are about to make; why not get right to the point? You will save on words, and avoid simply repeating the essay prompt; trust us, the application committee is pretty familiar with the prompt after a few hundred essays.

Besides wasting your valuable words, when you ask a question to introduce a thought this jerks the reader out of the essay by changing the tone and perspective. Suddenly you have shifted from sharing an experience, a belief, or an aspiration, to accosting the reader. Nobody likes to be accosted.

Surely there are exceptions, though, right? Not when it comes to application essays. Save that breaking-the-4th-wall-by addressing-the-audience for your creative writing!

Rhetorical questions can be ended with either a question mark, an exclamation mark or a period. Using a question mark is probably the most common choice, but it is really up to the writer to use whatever punctuation matches best the intent of the rhetorical question.

Yahoo's styleguide, which I would not consider as a reference, gives some examples of such usage:

  • Can you believe it? I just bought that car, and it’s already scratched.
  • What kind of a man are you?
  • Boy, do I!
  • How can you possibly think that!
  • Would everyone please rise for the national anthem.
  • Why don’t you stop asking me questions already.
  • Why don’t you take a long walk off a short pier.

As for my personal style, I don't use rhetorical questions much, but when I do I end them with question marks.

answered Feb 15 '11 at 21:19

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