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Humanities Libertexts

8.5: Grace

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  • Academic writing is not wholly utilitarian. An elegant and apt turn of phrase is satisfying both to write and to read. While you can’t often summon elegance out of nowhere, you can learn a few structures that are often pleasing to the reader’s ear because they harmonize what you’re saying with how you’re saying it.14 Here are two rhetorical tricks that you can use to reinforce your points.

    1. Balance. Readers often find balanced sentences and phrases pleasing. The Cleopatra example above (“goddess as a child, queen at eighteen, celebrity soon thereafter”) illustrates parallelism, which is one kind of balance: using parallel structures to convey a parallel idea. This parallelism not only helps Schiff be powerfully concise, it quickly and vividly conveys the idea that Cleopatra led a remarkable life. Williams and Bizup15 offer another example of an elegant sentence in which the two parts are balanced in their structure:

      A government that is unwilling to listen to the moderate hopes of its citizenry must eventually answer to the harsh justice of its revolutionaries.

      The same sentence with the parallel parts marked:

      A government that is unwilling to listen to the moderate hopes of its citizenry must eventually answer to the harsh justice of its revolutionaries.

      The balanced structure and contrasting language reinforces the author’s either-or point: “listen” or “answer”; “moderate hopes” or “harsh justice”, “citizenry” or “revolutionaries.” The balanced structure adds rhetorical force to the argument.

    2. Emphasis. Read these sentences out loud, or imagine yourself doing so:
      Version 1:


      But far and away, the largest weight-inducing food, out-stripping all others, was the potato chip.16

      Version 2:

      But far and away, the potato chip was the largest weight-inducing food, out-stripping all others.

    The first version places a particular rhetorical emphasis on “the potato chip” because it comes last in the sentence after a three-part build-up. The second version says the exact same thing, and it isn’t hard to see that “potato chip” is the key part of the sentence. However, the rhetorical emphasis on “the potato chip” is somewhat weaker. This common rhetorical trick is to put the part you want to emphasize at the very end of the sentence.

    These are just two rhetorical structures that scholars have identified. You can find others (Google “rhetorical device”) that you can bring into your repertoire. Most people can’t set out to write elegantly per se, and you certainly shouldn’t spend your writing time crafting elegantly balanced sentences that have little to do with your argument or analysis. But the more familiar you are with these rhetorical structures, the more often you can recognize and use them.

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