A simple, direct sentence is powerful, but rearranging a sentence to position important words at the end can achieve greater emphasis.
The “final position theory” in linguistics says that you gain greater emphasis by placing significant words at the end of sentences or paragraphs. You can’t do it with every sentence, only with those that contain words or details that have power or imagery. Those words, in essence, deliver a “wake up” jolt to the brain, a natural reaction that stems from Neanderthal days when the brain learned to respond to signs of danger.
There is nothing wrong with saying, We must finish by 5 p.m. Thursday because of Friday’s deadline, but instead, try this: Because of Friday’s deadline, we must finish by 5 p.m. Thursday. Read it aloud and notice the subtle but significant difference. Your voice drops in the second half of the sentence, placing a natural emphasis on the piece of information that is most important.
The technique is more common in human interest feature stories, because the descriptive details yield more opportunities to use it. Consider these examples:
- Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis met with three board members in a conference room to deliver a stunning announcement.
- Elliot Burak was trolling the Internet for the best prices on frogs.
- With little time remaining on their vacation, Marley and Tom Burrows decided to take their grandson Zack to America’s newest tourist attraction: an enormous pile of radioactive waste.
In each example, the words that grab your attention are positioned at the end, because it helps to pull you into the next paragraph. What was Lewis’ announcement? Why would anyone want to visit a pile of radioactive waste? And notice in the second example that it is stronger to say, “Elliot Burak was trolling the Internet for the best prices on frogs” than to say, “Elliot Burak was trolling for frogs on the Internet.”
Be alert for occasions when you can add punch to your writing by choosing or repositioning strong words.
Ken O’Quinn conducts writing and managerial communication workshops for corporations. A former Associated Press writer, he is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business and is a contributing author of Focus on Them, about leadership.