Last week I went with my boss to the annual conference of the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) in sunny San Diego, CA. We were at the exhibit hall promoting our Web site and some of our new publications, when we had a couple of interesting encounters.
A couple of years ago we wrote a booklet called "Are Vaccines Safe? Evaluating Information About Immunizations on the Internet," which provides some guidelines as to how to find reliable information on the web and how to sort out misinformation. The "Are Vaccines Safe?" part of the title is, of course, a rhetorical question--we don't actually deal with vaccine safety in the booklet. But of the dozens of people who came by our booth, two people read that title and assumed we were anti-vaccine. We try not to advocate, just to provide science-based information--but we are certainly NOT anti-vaccine. However, these two ID doctors got that impression.
Was it a bad idea to use a rhetorical question in the title? I confess that the motive was to grab the reader. And I guess it does grab the reader based on the booklets' sales (more than 11,000 sold so far).
My thought is that it was not a bad idea because the rhetorical question works well for our target audience--parents considering immunizations for their children. If our target audience were ID experts, I would not use a rhetorical question. So, as always, think about your audience in everything you write.
Thanks for reading!