Simple and direct is the reliable go-to sentence structure of English, but if you edit closely and notice that certain words in a sentence create important emphasis, rearrange the order to position those words at the end.
Positioning words for emphasis, so that you increase the impact, is a technique you can use in any type of writing. Consider the difference between these two sentences from an everyday email:
You must finish it by 5 p.m. Friday because Monday is the deadline.
Because of Monday’s deadline, you must finish it by 5 p.m.
There is nothing wrong with the first example, but if you read it aloud, your voice is a monotone; it sounds robotic. By moving the last few words to the front, you notice when you read aloud how your voice rises at the beginning, which adds a bit of emphasis, and the most punch is delivered at the end, as your voice comes down. your voice is on a down.
The technique is consistent with the “final position theory” in linguistics, which says 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 and will focus the reader’s attention. 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.
Notice this example, an opening sentence in a Wall Street Journal story: 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. Surely, the last two words would raise a reader’s eyebrows and probably pull her into the next paragraph, because the words have impact. They are unusual, and they stir curiosity.
Here is another example: The CEO met with three board members yesterday in a conference room and delivered a stunning announcement. Who wouldn’t keep reading or listening?
Moving significant words to the beginning or end can be a subtle but significant change. There is a sense of urgency; the reader needs to know more. So, be alert for those special occasions when you can add punch to your writing.
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.