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Stephen Wilbers
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Since the publication of this column, I've finished writing my 52 writing tips and have compiled them into a book titled Mastering the Craft of Writing. I hope you find both this column and my book helpful.

 

First published November 10, 2008

Techniques of style add pizzazz

By Stephen Wilbers
 

It’s not just what you say; it’s also how you say it. To make your words more memorable, use five techniques of style:

 

Use ellipses to compress your sentence endings.

 

An ellipsis is the omission of a word or phrase that is suggested by the context, as in “Susan wrote the first report, John wrote the second, and Kathy wrote the third” or “Susan wrote the first report, John the second, and Kathy the third.” As the words drop from the text, they continue to function in the subtext. You still hear them in your head.

 

For practice using ellipsis to compress your language, drop five words from the end of the following sentence so that it reads as Alfred North Whitehead wrote it: “Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful acquirement of the educated mind.”

 

Use figurative language.

 

To enliven your writing, go beyond literal meaning. Use analogies, similes (comparisons using like and as), and metaphors (comparisons not using like and as). Note E. B. White’s analogy in the trailing element of his sentence:

 

“Will [Strunk] himself had hung the tag ‘little’ on the book; he referred to it sardonically and with secret pride as ‘the little book,’ always giving the word ‘little’ a special twist, as though he were putting a spin on a ball.”

 

Use sentence beginnings for emphasis.

 

Although not every sentence lends itself to rearrangement for opening emphasis, some do. Compare “I have never felt more frustrated” with “Never have I felt more frustrated.”

 

Move a two-word phrase forward in this sentence: “You have asked me twice now to respond to your requests on short notice.”

 

Use paragraph endings for emphasis.

 

A bold statement, vivid description, or funny line at the end of a paragraph is more emphatic, vivid, or amusing than one in the middle. Identify which sentence William Zinsser used to resolve the following paragraph. (Hint: It wasn’t the first sentence.)

 

“All writing is ultimately a question of solving a problem. It may be a problem of where to obtain the facts, or how to organize the material. Whatever it is, it has to be confronted and solved. It may be a problem of approach or attitude, tone or style.”

 

Zinsser concluded his paragraph with “Whatever it is, it has to be confronted and solved.”

 

Subordinate to control your emphasis.

 

Use subordination to de-emphasize negative information and throw your emphasis to positive information. Compare “Although his insights are invaluable, he gets on my nerves” with “Although he gets on my nerves, his insights are invaluable.”

 

Revise the following sentences: “I cannot refund your money, but I will give you a 10% discount on your next purchase.” “My client was driving 85 miles an hour in a residential neighborhood, but no one was injured.” (Hint: Begin both sentences with Although.)

 

These tips are part of a longer list I’m working on. I’ve now written 22. When I get to 52, I’ll call it a book. If you would like for me to send you my new tips as I write them, visit Free Monthly Tips.
 

 

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