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Language: Tricks Of The Trade

Jan 23, 2008
To write well you must learn to use language tricks that can add to your writing the color, style, and appeal you want it to have. The five suggestions that follow have been called tricks because they work like magic to lift your composition out of the dull and the routine.


A good piece of writing moves along like a well-oiled machine. There are no sudden stops and starts, no sputtering, no unevenness. Each paragraph flows from the one preceding it and into the one following it. Within each paragraph, the sentences repeat the same pattern, following one another easily, in a clearly connected way, toward the central idea. The professionals call this kind of smoothness continuity. Achieving it is not very difficult at all. It is done with words or phrases strategically placed to form the links in the chain of thoughts and ideas.

Continuity Within Paragraphs

Since the related sentences of a paragraph should point toward the topic sentence, you can readily understand how good continuity can contribute greatly toward the smooth development of the main idea. Here a word or phrase that echoes the previous thought or makes some reference to it does the trick.


Sometimes writers and speakers deliberately repeat words to create a special dramatic effect or to reach a climax. You are probably familiar with the technique so dear to the hearts of politicians who thunder: "I say that these conditions are intolerable. I say that the time has come to change them. And I say the time is now!"

However, unless you are pointing toward a special effect, try to avoid repetition. Nothing can kill interest more quickly than the monotonous appearance of the same word in every other sentence. There is no excuse for it because our language is rich with synonyms, and thinking of an alternate expression takes but a few extra seconds. A fairly safe rule is this: If at all possible, do not use a key word more than twice in the same paragraph.


Before the 1900's, most essay writers favored long, complicated sentences, densely punctuated. This type of structure often made it difficult to follow the main ideas and contributed very greatly to the dryness that is associated with some classics.

The turn of the century brought ever-increasing emphasis upon brevity and clarity as the keynotes of a good writing style. Most modern authors prefer simpler, shorter sentences, averaging under twenty words. They get their effects not by heavy phrases and massive punctuation but by mixing up the form and pattern of their sentences, knowing that any design, if repeated often enough, contributes to dullness.


Most editors, when asked for advice on how to put life into a style, will say briefly and pointedly: "Cut! Cut! Cut!" This advice is based upon sound reasoning. Long-winded sentences, in speech or in writing, slow up the movement of ideas and rapidly bore the reader. You must learn to use the editor's blue pencil, too. Go over your sentences and cut out what is unnecessary. Make them get to the point. Make every word in a sentence do a job. Get rid of those that just lie around doing nothing. Don't be like the insufferable sleep-talker who never says in ten words what he can say in a hundred.


It's not so much what you say that counts, but how you say it. On any given topic, most students with intelligence and imagination will come up with similar ideas. The differences in quality of the compositions will be found in the language they use - and language means words. That's why it should make a difference to you whether a particular word you have chosen is "a good one or a bad one." And that's why you must constantly strive to "find out a better in its place."

Try these five "tricks" and you will improve any piece of writing!
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