In journalistic writing I often see writers, correspondents, and interviewers use questions in non-literal ways. Of course there are rhetorical questions designed to make a point and not meant to literally elicit an answer.

Instead of that, I have in mind when an interviewer asks a correspondent, "why did she not go to the police?" when the interviewer already knows the story and knows the answer to the question, but wants the correspondent to articulate the answer for the audience's benefit.

Is there a commonly used term for this sort of a question? A "leading" question generally implies an attempt to manipulate the respondent into giving certain responses, which is not exactly the same as what I'm describing.

  • 1
    See The Watson.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 5:56
  • 1
    Playing The Watson is also referred to as cabbaging, since this role could be played by a head of cabbage.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheWatson
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 23:35
  • A similar concept in different context is the Dorothy Dixer. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 12:12
  • Do you think questions like this are worth asking here?
    – thomj1332
    Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 14:43
  • @thomj1332 It's a question about the English language and usage so ... seems to fit the purpose of the stack.
    – Addem
    Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 14:46

7 Answers 7


A question like that is a “prompt”. From the Online Oxford Dictionary:

An act of encouraging a hesitating speaker. ‘with barely a prompt, Barbara talked on’

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    It is usual to cite a reference to show that we are not just expressing our own opinion.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 4:42

The kind of question that is designed to elicit a known answer for the audience's benefit is neither rhetorical, leading, nor loaded.

It's a guiding question designed to elicit answers that tell a story. This is a partly scripted interview (the interviewer knows the expected answer and has the next question ready).

See, for example, this article on doing a television interview.

Another type of question is the open-ended question, often designed to elicit emotional response.

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    Generally speaking, the purpose of an open-ended question is to draw out more information, not to elicit an emotional response. If you are discussing an emotional situation, then you will likely get a more emotional response, but that is situation specific.
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 20:05
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    The link goes into why these questions might be used (adding detail to the original question), but doesn't contain the phrase "guiding question" (or the word "guide/guiding"). Googling the phrase "guiding question" reveals a different use in educational contexts. As I understand it, it is taken there to mean a question that a student may keep in mind while studying (i.e., to have some idea about what is to be gained from study). Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 20:34

The word I think you are looking for is . . . 'question'.

  • If one wishes no answer at all, one asks a rhetorical question.

  • If one wishes to put the answer in someone's mouth, one asks a leading question.

  • If one wishes to accuse someone of something, one asks a loaded question.

  • If one wishes to receive an answer - one just asks a question.

If the two people involved are not really asking questions and giving answers then that is a script and not a genuine conversation.

The degree of skill required for this task is expressed by an expert on such techniques :

The Watson (TV tropes) :

'Playing The Watson' is also referred to as cabbaging, since this role could be played by a head of cabbage.

  • 3
    Excellent answer. It's nice to have these similar types of questions explained together. Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 0:36
  • Good list, but in the example I do think a rhetorical question is indicated. Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 4:36
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    @chrylis The OP, in the question, has already eliminated that possibility.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 4:38
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    I described a situation where the questioner is not hoping to learn the answer to the question. She is only asking for the benefit of an audience. That seems far from the usual use of a question.
    – Addem
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 4:52
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    @Addem It is in fact frowned upon on StackExchange not to do so. The intention of these sites is to create a network of questions and accurate, verifiable answers. If all you have to offer to a question is an opinion, then posting an answer to it is generally discouraged. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 10:18

The questions may be Socratic (I think he asked leading questions, for pedagogical reasons); or, a direct examination (which is what you should do in a court, rather than asking "leading questions").


A Rhetoric(al) question is, in fact, the correct term you are looking for. Rhetoric or a "rhetorical" question doesn't necessarily mean the questioner "does not expect an answer;" (a common misunderstanding of the term) it simply means a question posed, or any discourse intended to persuade--usually a "third party" listener, as often is the case in legal proceedings, etc. So the asker usually does "know" the answer. Rhetoric or a rhetorical questions are devices used to move an interrogation or "line of questioning" toward a certain direction or end. (BA philosophy MA psychology.)

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    Hm, that might be appropriate some of the time, but often the technique isn't for persuasion--merely for informing the audience.
    – Addem
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 14:58

In Australian politics the term 'Dorothy Dixer' refers to a question asked in parliament, usually by a member of the same party, specifically to give the questioned member the opportunity to talk about a given subject.

The term references American advice columnist Dorothy Dix's reputed practice of making up her own questions to allow her to publish more interesting answers.


It could be a "rhetorical question asked for the audience's sake."

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