Professor Pedantic 教授的考究學問

The professor awaits your query on academic writing, though in all honesty, he doesn’t have a lot of time for you. He is a tenured full professor and working on yet another magnificent academic tome. Even so, he has graciously consented to entertain your question. Submit it and prepare to be edified.

QUESTION: My professor faulted me for using rhetorical questions in my paper. I believe that the questions moved the paper along and served the reader well. What can I do to convince the professor of this?

I’m not sure you are in a position to convince professors of anything. Rather, they are in a position of authority precisely because they are more learned than you. For the most part, professors are the convincers and teachers and students are the learners. Yet a really good professor keeps an open mind on the off chance that he or she might yet have something to learn. So I don’t fault you for challenging an authorized view of academic writing. The tension thus created might shake out a new classroom paradigm.

As for employing rhetorical questions, my first response is to ask, do you really mean questions— plural? That is, did you insert a question, or maybe two, in your paper, or was your paper rife with them? And were they truly rhetorical? A rhetorical question is intended to draw attention to a subsequent statement. Example: “Is the sky blue?” generally is not rhetorical; it actually is asked to elicit a response. Whereas, “So why is the sky blue?” is an introduction to, perhaps, a comment about a person’s state of mind.

While some professors frown on any use of rhetorical questions, others appreciate the power of such a question to introduce a point. It is a literary device that can effectively help bracket and, thus, organize and facilitate orderly expression of thoughts. Yet if the questions are overused—more than two of these questions probably are too many in a paper—they become patronizing and ineffective. My point? Don’t ask a question in a paper unless it really helps advance the narrative.

Posted at 2011-06-29 19:28:46

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