Circumvent information silos—the tendency of some people to limit their access to information to a handful of websites or media sources—by publishing your message in multiple media and genres. Plus, remediating (or remixing) texts can turbocharge your creative potential. To learn more about remediation as an invention strategy, see "Text-to-Text Remediation" and "Text-to-Visual Remediation."
Voice, sentence structure, point of view, description, grammar—knowledge of these stylistic issues can enable you to craft your messages so they are artful, creative, and persuasive. Understand the effects of different syntactical patterns on readability and persuasiveness.
Many times, high school students are told not to use first person (“I,” “we,” “my,” “us,” and so forth) in their essays. As a college student, you should realize that this is a rule that can and should be broken—at the right time, of course.
By now, you’ve probably written a personal essay, memoir, or narrative that used first person. After all, how could you write a personal essay about yourself, for instance, without using the dreaded “I” word?
Look at the following lines and determine how you might revise them so that they remove the pronoun “you” or define the pronoun “we”:
- You can understand what it’s like to have a stack of papers to grade and only two days to do it.
- We now know that cigarettes can cause various types of cancer.
- I would like you to understand that not all students are lazy.
- We believe that gay marriage is not immoral or harmful to the American family; as such, we argue that it should be legalized.
- Doughnuts are really harmful to our health, so we should stop ingesting them.
When is first person point of view used?
First person point of view is often used in personal narrative—when the writer is telling a story or relating an experience. This perspective is writer’s point of view, and the writer becomes the focal point. First person personal pronouns include I, we, me, us, my, mine, our, and ours.
Examples of sentences written from the first person point of view:
- I was only seven years old when my family moved to the United States.
- We took a vacation that allowed us to explore our nation from east to west and north to south.
The Beginning of Your Journey
You are writing for a class. You realize that you have no idea what point-of-view is appropriate for this piece of writing. You quickly text a friend but discover that she does not know. Your teacher is currently teaching subject/verb agreement to a nest of talking dragons and is not available. Desperate for help, you head into the forest to the fabled Point-of-View Castle. Dodging past giant spiders, enormous werewolves, and cute little pixies (who are surely up to no good), you arrive at the castle to discover that you can choose from one of three bridges across a moat filled with ravenous alligators. On each bridge stands a wizard who wants to talk to you. All three wear long, flowing robes and have the required gray beards and mystical staffs of power. Each robe has a word written on it. What do you do?
When is second person point of view used?
Second person point of view is often used for giving directions, offering advice, or providing an explanation. This perspective allows the writer to make a connection with his or her audience by focusing on the reader. Second person personal pronouns include you, your, and yours.
Examples of sentences written from the second person point of view:
- You should put your cell phone in the trunk if you want to resist the temptation to use it while you are driving.
- When you write an academic paper, keep in mind that the appearance of your paper can make a positive or negative impression on your reader.
When is third-person point of view used?
Third person is used when a degree of objectivity is intended, and it is often used in academic documents, such as research and argument papers. This perspective directs the reader’s attention to the subject being presented and discussed. Third person personal pronouns include he, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, her, hers, its, their, and theirs.
For many novice academic writers, the decision of whether to use first-person or third-person voice is determined by several factors. First and third-person refers to the point of view the author adopts, where first-person uses the singular and plural pronouns “I,” “we,” “me,” and “us,” as in “I argue that,” and third-person uses “she,” “he,” “it,” or “they.” Often times, academic writers will identify the subject in the third-person, as in “Stone argues that,” or “The researchers suggest.”
"As luck would have it, at the drop of a hat I was at my wits’ end."
What does this sentence say? Anything? Nothing? Nothing new—this sentence contains three clichés strung together. Just as you want to avoid archaic and discipline-specific language (jargon), you also want to avoid incorporating overused phrases (cliches) into your writing.
Granted, all language is reused. Unless you’re making up words, the words we use have been used before. But the wonderful thing about language is that by combining words in new ways and by giving them different contexts, you can construct a new and compelling message.
Have you ever read the first few sentences of a scholarly article and been so annoyed by the denseness of the writing? Take this line for example: “On the contrary, I proffer that the ontological necessity to determine the nature of dwelling resides within the viewer.” What does this mean? I have no idea, either. That’s because I’m not a philosopher, and “ontological” is a term that is not used very often outside of philosophical endeavors.
Perhaps the most important aspect of writing is clarity. You’re writing to communicate a message, yes? Don’t you want your message to be received? Well, writing with obscure or group-specific language will often muddle your point. Use words with which you’re familiar—and, more importantly, words with which your audience will be familiar.
An archaism refers to an out-of-style word or phrase, such as “whilst,” “thusly,” or “thou.” When cultivating your own personal writing style, it’s important that you avoid sounding artificial. And one surefire way to sound artificial is to produce stilted writing by loading your paper with old theatrical-sounding words. Here are some archaisms commonly found in student writing (ones to avoid):
- Thusly: You can use “thus” in writing, but be careful not to overuse it. Constantly repeating the word “thus” can make your writing sound unnatural. Try varying your transitional language by incorporating phrases like “as such,” “as a result,” or “in effect.” “Thusly,” however, should never be used. When have you ever heard that word used in modern-day society?
When writing an original paper, you want to ensure that your voice takes center stage. The reader should hear your voice, not the voice of a distinguished professor and not the voice of your best friend. While you want to avoid being overly conversational in most academic writing, you certainly want your voice to be driving the paper. After all, the reader wants to hear you! This section addresses the common mistakes that can cause writers to lose their voice in an essay. By reading about archaisms, jargon, and cliches, you can develop a sense of the types of rhetorical choices that distance readers.
Why should figurative language be used in engaging writing?
Figurative language makes a comparison that is not meant to be read literally; instead, figures of speech are intended to create a connection or highlight a significant part of a discussion. Certain literary devices—such as similes, metaphors, and personification—can help create word pictures for the reader. When persuasive writers use figurative language, they are more likely to engage their readers and make their argument more relevant and convincing.
You tend to use less explicit descriptions (such as clichés, qualifiers, wordy constructions, overuse of prepositional phrases, vague constructions). How might your discussion be more precise and engaging? How might your revise this sentence to make it clearer, more active, more convincing, and more connected to other sentences or ideas?
These questions touch on one of the foundations of effective writing—clarity. Excessive wordiness (often caused by passive constructions) can confuse readers and require them to spend more time trying to understand your sentences rather than your ideas.
How might you engage your reader by incorporating more figurative language (anecdote, narrative, simile, metaphor, dialogue, personification and such)? How might you offer more valid comparisons using these techniques?
“All the world’s a stage”—have you ever wondered why people remember and quote lines from Shakespeare so much? One of the reasons is because he used figurative language very effectively in his writings. You may have heard the term “figurative language” before, and perhaps when you heard it you were in a class analyzing novels or poetry. But figurative language is not just used in literature: you can employ it in your essay writing to great effect. Figurative language adds color to your writing by taking your words and applying them to other, often unexpected, objects or concepts.
Why should unnecessary words and phrases be eliminated?
Unnecessary words and phrases result in redundancy. A writer can achieve efficiency in writing by using concise words and phrases that denote clear meaning. Each word should contribute to the argument and purpose of an assignment; if a word or phrase can be removed from a sentence without affecting its meaning, it should be eliminated.
Provide the details readers need to follow your message.
Teachers and readers abhor vagueness. If you say, "Research suggests that drinking grape juice lowers cholesterol," they'll ask, "What research? How was the research conducted? Who conducted the research? Did the results appear in a credible source?"
When writing, you may use words or phrases that convey rich meaning to you. A word like "stuff" or "thing" can encapsulate other words, stories, and events in your mind, but in your readers' mind the words can mean something altogether different.
Why is it important to use appropriate academic language?
The words writers choose reflect the formality or informality of the rhetorical situation. Academic writing often calls for the use of formal diction, in contrast to the less formal language of everyday conversation. The use of conversational language and informal tone—writing as we speak—in academic papers is often too casual and may weaken the credibility of the writer. On the other hand, the use of language that is pompous or stuffy can make the writing sound overly complex. Utilizing language appropriate to the academic context can help to create balanced communication between writer and reader.
What is transitional language?
Transitional language includes words, phrases, and sentences that writers use to help their readers make connections; new information is linked to previously stated material through the effective use of transitions.
While the writer may understand how the ideas between sentences or paragraphs are related, the reader may not perceive the same sense of clarity. When used effectively, transitions help the reader to understand the relationship between the writer’s ideas.
"Exercise: Figurative Language" was contributed by Allison Wise.
Examine a famous speech or essay (political pieces and sermons work particularly well, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” would make a good choice). Make note of all the examples of figurative language, identifying which type of figurative language they are.
Conciseness Improves Flow
Unfortunately, many writers use sentences that are too wordy. This is not to suggest that lengthy sentences can never be used (because they certainly can), but most of the time writers make the mistake of using more words than necessary to get their message across. Take this sentence, for example:
- “Michelle was supposed to have her car’s oil changed every 3,000 miles, and since it had been 3,000 miles since her last oil change, she took her car to the mechanic.”
What are homonyms?
Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings, such as pair, pare, and pear. Choosing the wrong word from among two or more homonyms results in a spelling error; this inaccuracy creates confusion in the mind of the reader and temporarily interrupts the flow of the passage.