Consider the relationship:
?????:a line of questioning
In other words, is there a term that captures the intent \ mental state of a line of questioning?
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"Mens rea" is another word for "intent".
In the case of a question, the word "purpose" is often used.
The judge might ask a lawyer following a relevance or hearsay objection by the other lawyer to a question asked at a trial or hearing, "What is the purpose of your question counsellor?"
This is because to be "relevant" the question must be asked for the purpose of making a fact necessary to prove the case more or less likely. Similarly, a question must be asked for the purpose of eliciting a statement about "the truth of the matter asserted" for the hearsay rule to apply.
For example, if the lawyer asked "what did the witness say in response to your question?" to a defendant in a civil case on the stand, and the other lawyer objected, the judge might ask, "What is the purpose of your question counsellor?"
If the lawyer said, "I'm asking to determine if the witness was deaf or mute?", the objection might be overruled as to that narrow purpose, although the judge might require the question to be rephrased to avoid prejudice, because the truthfulness of the content of the answer is irrelevant to the purpose for which the question is asked.
But, if the lawyer said, "I'm asking to establish that the witness saw the defendant typing a text message as he crashed the car.", the objection would be sustained on hearsay grounds, because the purpose of the question is to disclose the truth of the matter asserted by the witness which would be hearsay if the witness was not testifying and was not a party to the action.
A term that captures the intent / mental state of a line of questioning is "relevance". As for a proportional analogy, "mens rea" is a mental state that is classically required for an act to be judged criminal (is an element). IMO "mens rea : crime :: relevance : line of questioning" is a bit of a stretch, but "relevance" is an essential component of a line of questioning, so that a series of random questions is not a "line of questioning".
Mens rea is to crime as inquiry is to a line of questioning.
I believe that would be a good start.
Mens rea describes the "guilty" state of mind a person has when they do an action which is implied to be illegal.
This is a little difficult to convey but mens rea itself has an attribute of guilt towards it. And this guilt must be attached to an action. I say action and not crime because it is perfectly possible to have the mens rea of a specific crime (the intent to commit murder, for example), but not have the accompanying action (e.g the gun misfires when you try to shoot it at someone); the actus reus may not accompany the mens rea.
Now to compare this to your question. We know that mens rea usually accompanies a crime, is the "mental" aspect of an action in a criminal context. And so if a "line of questioning" is the action, then the mental state accompanying this action would usually be "inquiry", inquiry as a state of mind, at least. Curiosity may also be a useful term but wouldn't be wholly appropriate because curiosity implies a usually harmless want for unrequired knowledge