Quick Writing Tip: Use Stress to Your Advantage

I’ll keep this quick since I’ll be boarding an plane to beautiful/awful Orlando in 10 hours and would love to sleep: All writers should consider how they use stress.

No, I don’t mean that gnawing, twisting feeling in the pit of your stomach as deadline approaches – although if you can figure out a way to use that to your advantage, you’re a beast. I mean using the right words in the correct order to emphasize an essential point.

Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup’s amazing “Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace,” a book every writer should own, says that just as we look to the first few words of a sentence for point of view, we look to the last few words for emphasis. Sharp writers should rearrange their sentences to stress the most significant words.

(And yes, my lead image is essentially a visual hominem/lie/#fakenews, but that lady is biting her computer and that is dope as shit. We should all start doing that on deadline; rattle some birdcages, shake things up, scare some editors.)

One easy way to best use stress would be to trim the end of a sentence that has become too big for its britches. For example, I should have cut off the last part of the previous sentence and just left it at: “One easy way to best use stress his would be to trim the end of a sentence.” Isn’t that better? And it looks less like I’m trying to impress you with my knowledge of clichés.

Here’s a quick tip from the authors on how to properly check your sentence’s stress:


News writers beware: Altering the stress of a sentence affects what the reader sees as important. If you’re attempting objectivity, this could get a careless journo into a pickle.

But if you’re writing from your own eyes and don’t give a shit about objectivity – or if you’re a skilled journalist who can write their ass off – stress can make you look sexy as hell.

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