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Choice and Arrangement of Words for Achieving Emphasis

Summary:

This handout provides information on visual and textual devices for adding emphasis to your writing including textual formatting, punctuation, sentence structure, and the arrangement of words.

Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2010-04-17 05:36:06

The simplest way to emphasize something is to tell readers directly that what follows is important by using such words and phrases as especially, particularly, crucially, most importantly, and above all.

Emphasis by repetition of key words can be especially effective in a series, as in the following example.

See your good times come to color in minutes: pictures protected by an elegant finish, pictures you can take with an instant flash, pictures that can be made into beautiful enlargements.

When a pattern is established through repetition and then broken, the varied part will be emphasized, as in the following example.

Murtz Rent-a-car is first in reliability, first in service, and last in customer complaints.

Besides disrupting an expectation set up by the context, you can also emphasize part of a sentence by departing from the basic structural patterns of the language. The inversion of the standard subject-verb-object pattern in the first sentence below into an object-subject-verb pattern in the second places emphasis on the out-of-sequence term, fifty dollars.

I'd make fifty dollars in just two hours on a busy night at the restaurant.

Fifty dollars I'd make in just two hours on a busy night at the restaurant.

The initial and terminal positions of sentences are inherently more emphatic than the middle segment. Likewise, the main clause of a complex sentence receives more emphasis than subordinate clauses. Therefore, you should put words that you wish to emphasize near the beginnings and endings of sentences and should never bury important elements in subordinate clauses. Consider the following example.

No one can deny that the computer has had a great effect upon the business world.

Undeniably, the effect of the computer upon the business world has been great.

In the first version of this sentence, "No one can deny" and "on the business world" are in the most emphasized positions. In addition, the writer has embedded the most important ideas in a subordinate clause: "that the computer has had a great effect." The edited version places the most important ideas in the main clause and in the initial and terminal slots of the sentence, creating a more engaging prose style.

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