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In an academic writing course some years ago I remember being told that when writing, for instance, a journal article in English, one should usually avoid structuring one's text with the help of explicit questions, something like:

In the previous section we saw that the values of X are particularly high when considering Y, suggesting that... Blablaa. Bla. Could this be interpreted as a result of Z?

And then I go on and answer my own question.

Or something like:

X's statement does seem credible in light of Y. This interpretation, however, poses another question: Why is it the case that Z, if ...?

And here I start to build the answer

Are there actually some stylistic guidelines that would recommend avoiding these kinds of structures? Does anyone know about a resource where something like this would be mentioned?

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Speaking as a professor and author of several academic papers; I would avoid it.

Rhetorical questions are a technique we use in classrooms to generate interest or debate among students. That is a form of "entertainment" and entertainment is NOT the goal of a paper, it is reporting your research and conclusions, and you should not present any ambiguous or "teaser" lines in the process.

The reader cannot answer questions. You are not writing a mystery novel! This may seem "dry" but that is what is expected. To rewrite your text:

In the previous section we saw that the values of X are particularly high when considering Y, suggesting [a,b,c]. We will now show this behavior can be interpreted as a result of [d].

Thus X's statement does seem credible in light of Y. To complete the argument, we must show that [e] holds, to justify why [f] holds.

In other words, it is fine to tell the reader in a 'summary line' what you are about to more formally prove or argue. Typically you can reword your questions to provide a summary statement of what is to come instead of the question, which is really the point of the question.

I certainly would not put a ban on all rhetorical questions in academic papers, but for students I would not allow them at all. Learn to write without them; stick to the facts and presenting your work, keep emotional appeal out of it. That is what is expected; at least in my scientific fields.

In other fields where I have read few academic papers (e.g. psychology or history or law) I could be swayed if shown several other highly quoted recently published papers (e.g. in the last 20 years) that make heavy use of rhetorical questions.

But still, IMO you can avoid them and make a stronger paper. A rhetorical question is always an introduction to a discussion that can be rewritten to serve better as a summary statement imparting a fact about what comes next, and typically the statement will be shorter anyway.

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I can't add anything to Amadeus's answer, which is perfect when looking at an academic paper and gives the reasons why the rhetorical approach doesn't work.

I notice you've also mentioned a journal article, which could take us into something of a grey area. No journal will have a problem with information presented as an academic paper, and if you're writing for journals in a generic sense this would be the way to go.

The exception would be if you were writing for a specific journal that you knew used a less formal style - in this case presenting the information in a way that's closer to entertainment might work better. In this case, the stylistic guidelines would be based on previous articles in that particular journal - you could also ask whether they have a specific house style.

  • Note that when an academic says journal article, they are almost certainly talking about an academic paper published in an academic journal – which is theo way of publishing in most fields. – Wrzlprmft Feb 25 at 19:22
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It also depends who the audience is -- if by "academic text" you mean textbook or supplement to educational materials, then questions may be great!

Often in PlainLanguage, they advice question-headings in first person (as the reader has a question in mind), and then answer using 2nd person to mean the reader.

https://www.plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/organize/add-useful-headings/

In the PlainLanguage.Gov Training area, they have a PPTX that I adapted and used when I taught technical writing, as I found them to be great guidelines for addressing non-expert users without talking down to them.

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