The Uses of Question Marks in Technical Writing

Question Marks

Question marks (also known as asterisks) are a common part of writing. Used most commonly in English, they show a reader-based intent in a sentence. The question mark? is a popular punctuation mark which shows an introductory question or subjunctive phrase in most languages.

Direct Question

In direct questions, such as

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

Question marks usually show the answer (but not always). In a statement like “John is a boy.” Then the sentence is either “John is a boy” or “the boy John is.” In a list like “the first five baby names”. Then the list is either “the first five baby names or the first five baby names and their spellings.”

Question Marks In Poetry

Question marks are also used in poetry to indicate the main idea of the poem or other literary work, as in “love’s conquest.” They can also be used to underline an idea or to emphasize it in a paragraph. In an essay, question marks are used to point out the main point, and to show the focus of the essay.

Question Marks Is Science

Question marks are used in science, especially in mathematics and physics. When a student finds an equation and asks for an explanation, he/she will often be given one by using question marks (as in “How do the magnets get their positions?”). The student will then be expected to provide an explanation. The question mark may also be used in the scientific writing class to point out a specific thing or the problem being solved. For example, in chemistry a question mark may be used to show a chemical formula, and to show its definition or description.


Question marks are also used in poetry to indicate a thought or an emotion. In a love poem the question marks may indicate the direction of the emotion, as in “For he loves me but I do not know why.” In a question, it is usually assumed that the reader knows what the emotion is, so that the reader will feel compelled to answer the question directly. Paired with commas, they create the effect of a question mark in the middle of a sentence, giving emphasis to the statement. Of course, in a direct question such as “How did you know to get your clothes off?”

Technical Writing

In technical writing, question marks sometimes indicate a limitation or exception to the rule, such as “The computer, despite all the precautions, gave birth to a black baby.” A quotation mark can be used in place of a question mark to indicate a popular fact or opinion, and is usually followed by the writer’s name, e.g., “Thus Mr. Wardman found himself the owner of…”.


Quotation marks are used to give emphasis to a single thought or idea. They are also frequently used to emphasize a direct quote. In a paper written on chickens, for instance, quoting the words of Charles Darwin on the subject of chicken farming would often require two question marks, one for the thought, “But why the chicken?” and one for the quotation, “On the point of fact, I must say that I have never seen a chicken in the wild.” Thus “the chicken” is enclosed in quotation marks.

Variety of  styles

Question marks can be used throughout a piece of writing in a variety of different styles, depending on the exact purpose of the piece. At the end of a sentence, they can indicate the conclusion to which the whole paragraph is tending; in a list, they can indicate who is speaking, how many people are involved in an argument, etc. When they appear at the beginning of a sentence, they give us an opening for further explanation, either by the writer or the reader. Finally, at the end of a paragraph, they signal the end of that particular paragraph.