pre-colon-part: post-colon-part is a format which is often used in titles of papers. In all of the instances I have seen, the first part is an informative phrase, a (fictitious) example of which may be

Optimal consensus control of drone swarms: a game-theoretic approach.

But, I am wondering whether there are instances of papers# first parts of whose colon-wise titles are questions; as another fake example, something like:

Constructive or destructive?: Implications on the effectiveness of my vaccine on the mutated coronavirus

I just tried to look up potential occurrences of the pattern pre-colon-part?: post-colon-part in Google Scholar by searching "?:". However, my query yields nothing. Has anyone already encountered such instances in the scientific literature?

# I am preferably interested in the potential instances which are composed by English native speakers, and/or published in prestigious journals.

  • FYI, "effectiveness" doesn't seem like an appropriate word to match with "constructive or destructive". To me, something like "outcome" or "patient outcome" fits better. Jan 10, 2021 at 17:32

4 Answers 4


There are plenty of articles that have a title in the format "Question? Answer/Suggestion", however, without colon.

I'm pretty sure that you cannot have a colon following a question mark, given a question mark indicates the end of a sentence (same as full stop and exclamation mark).

See also this question on english.se: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/51485/sentences-ending-with-both-a-colon-and-a-question-mark


I agree with Mark that it's bad style to end a phrase with ?: (assuming it isn't the ternary operator!), but that doesn't mean people haven't published papers with such titles. It does seem rare, but one example that seems to meet your criteria is

  • Richard A. J. Woolley, Karina H. G. Schulte, Li Wang, Philip J. Moriarty, Bruce C. C. Cowie, Hisanori Shinohara, Mito Kanai, and T. John S. Dennis, Does an Encapsulated Atom ‘feel' the Effects of Adsorption?: X-ray Standing Wave Spectroscopy of Ce@C82 on Ag(111) (link), published in Nano Letters.

By the way, I found it by searching for ?: in regular Google, which seems to handle punctuation differently than Google Scholar.


At KDD, arguably the top data mining conference, a recent high-impact paper used this format. The published paper can be found here:


The publicly accessible arXiv preprint can be found here:



You don't need the question mark; it is implicit in "Constructive or destructive:"

  • This does not really answer the titular question, but it would be acceptable if you could expand your answer possibly citing some grammar reference. Jan 11, 2021 at 20:25

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