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Should rhetorical questions end with a period?

How would you punctuate the following sentence, and others like it? Are there any precedents, or applicable style guides?

The question is what are we going to do about it?

No rephrasing, please.

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marked as duplicate by coleopterist, MετάEd, tchrist, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, Matt Эллен Oct 9 '12 at 8:27

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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is a direct question expressed within a declarative sentence that declares the question to be a question. We answered this last week. The sentence should be written one of two ways:

The question is, "What are we going to do about it?"

or

The question is: "What are we going to do about it?"

There are some other possibilities, but these are the two major contenders.

This is not a rhetorical question unless there is no answer or unless the answer has already been provided and you're not asking for a real answer. In any case, it doesn't affect the orthography or punctuation.

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Personally, I'd low-end the punctuation:

The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Or

The question is, what are we going to do about it?

While the quotation marks may seem necessary, this is a common enough construction that they really aren't required unless you are writing something extremely formal.

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1  
I specialize in formal expository prose for publication in international medical and technical journals, but I agree with JAM that his two versions are fine for informal writing. Nobody consults style manuals for informal writing. I don't blame them. Neither do I. Always consider your audience as well as your vehicle (informal: letter, email, etc.; formal: journal article, dissertation, university class paper, etc.). –  user21497 Oct 9 '12 at 5:05
3  
A compromise between the high-end punctuation offered by @BillFranke and what's offered here by JAM might be to capitalize the 'W' but leave out the quotes, as in, The question is: What are we going to do about it? According to one website, "If the introductory phrase preceding the colon is very brief and the clause following the colon represents the real business of the sentence, begin the clause after the colon with a capital letter." –  J.R. Oct 9 '12 at 8:09
    
@J.R.: Good suggestion. +1 –  user21497 Oct 9 '12 at 8:43
    
Three good suggestions. I would accept them all if I could. –  Emre Oct 9 '12 at 8:47
    
@Emre: But you can't. The question is: Which one are you going to use? :^) –  J.R. Oct 9 '12 at 9:17
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