Don’t underestimate the power of the clear, direct sentence, but creating rhythm, variety, and emphasis are other ways to make your writing compelling.

Here is a segment from a USA Today story looking back on pay phones in America:

For a century, the pay phone has been the impersonal medium for some of our most personal news: It’s a boy. You made the honor roll. I wrecked the car. He died in his sleep.

… The phone booth was a dressing room for Superman, a refuge for Tippi Hedren in The Birds, a lifeline for Robert Redford, as he ran from killers in Three Days of the Condor.

… Pay phones have been innocent targets of irrational rage – burned, bombed, beaten, and “graffitied.” We jammed gum in the coin slots, yanked out the cords, slammed down the receiver in frustration.

A few things worth noting:

  • When you use two, three, or four short sentences after a longer segment, as in the first line (above), they gain emphasis because they are short and crisp, and a rhythm emerges.
  • In the second paragraph, the commas — without and before the last one — create a rhythm that helps you breeze through the sentence.
  •  In the third sentence, series burned, bombed, beaten, and “graffitied,” the commas separate words that are similar: The emphasis in each word is on the first syllable.
  • The use of alliteration (the repetition of the “b” sound), is pleasing to the ear.

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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at

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