Advanced Business Writing
Rhetoric and Narrative

Emphasize

Let's continue with useful word patterns. Here we will consider those that emphasize something for your reader.

Anaphora - start sentences with the same word or phrase

On a bright summer day in 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the end of a long afternoon of speeches, Martin Luther King stood and delivered a speech of 1650 words. Most people know that he used the phrase, I have a dream, to begin a bunch of sentences. But what most people don't know is how much he used anaphora throughout his speech:

One hundred years later X.
    [four times]
Now is the time X.
    [four times]
We must X.
    [four times]
We cannot/can never X.
    [eight times]
Go back to X.
    [six times]
I have a dream that X.
    [eight times]
Let freedom ring from X.
    [eight times]

It's effective. It's easy to do. But it's easy to overdo. And for the reader, it's easy to remember the repeated phrase but forget everything else. So, use anaphora sparingly. Also, when you do use it, try to use it like the tricolon—in threes:

You asked about the likelihood of success for this project. It depends on how well the team works together. It depends on when they will be allowed to build the prototype. And it depends on whether their spending plan will be approved.

Using it only two times can look like an editing error. Four or more times can make you sound overzealous if you are writing about something at work.

This rhetorical technique can also be effective when presenting a list or when tying ideas together for the reader, or both:

• Good leadership creates trust in research goals and direction.
• Good research identifies what products we can develop.
• Good development ensures our profitability.

Note: This technique can also be applied for clauses that make up a sentence:

We need to gather all the correspondence requested. Every memo, every letter, every email.

Asyndeton - omit conjunctions

Leaving out conjunctions for effect has a long history:

I came, I saw, I conquered.
[Julius Caesar, bragging]

We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.
[Abraham Lincoln, lamenting]

We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
[John Kennedy, challenging]

These are all lists. By omitting conjunctions, a list:

  • Conveys a sense of urgency.
  • Suggests that all the things are of equal importance.
  • Identifies the most important things of all the possible things.

You can probably use this more often than you can use anaphora. But if you use it too often, readers will wonder if you're unaware of the grammatical rule for including a conjunction. So don't go overboard.

Schesis Onomaton (original definition) - omit verbs

Most people at work hesitate to write a sentence without a verb. But few of them have a problem with hearing:

Space. The final frontier.

No verbs there, right? Of course, paragraphs or pages without verbs will drive readers crazy. Perhaps even the following example would be overdoing it:

It's great that we finally have in our employ a person like Chen. A man wise in counsel, candid in communication, arresting in attire, eloquent in utterance, an enemy to wickedness, and a maven of management decorum.

But occasional use is an effective way to make the reader wake up and pay attention:

It's great that we finally have in our employ a person like Chen. Seriously. Lucky us.

Lesson: Emphasize
Module: Rhetoric and Narrative
Course: Advanced Business Writing