An Introduction to Emphasis

The ablest writer is a gardener first, and then a cook. His tasks are, carefully to select and cultivate the strongest and most nutritive thoughts, and, when they are ripe, to dress them wholesomely, and so that they may have a relish. — J. C. and A. W. Hare

The term Emphasis refers to a conceptualized technique for arranging words, sentencesOpens in new window, paragraphsOpens in new window based on their gradation; whereby important elements are placed in strategic location. Thus the desired meaning may be accentuated to the audience as originally intended by the author (speaker or writer).

Emphasis can be attained through several means, one of which is the placement of important ideas in strategic positions—like, the beginning or at the end of sentences or paragraphs. One other means, is by creating ample white spaceOpens in new window before the emphasized elements than those other ones considered less significant.

Another stylistic technique for emphasizing significant points in the discourse is by placing focal ideas in separate or short paragraphs that contrast with the longer elements in the discourse.

Some author prefer using dashesOpens in new window, hyphensOpens in new window, and other forms of punctuation perceived to be “dramatic,” however, these should be used minimally to prevent cases where meanings are eclipsed by structure.

Repetition is also used in this regard to emphasize the importance of ideas. While important ideas are frequently placed in the first sentence of paragraphs and restated or recast in the final sentence of the same paragraph to emphasize their importance, use of repetition for emphasis takes place in other ways.

For example, important ideas are repeated within paragraphs. Lincoln’sOpens in new window Gettysburg AddressOpens in new window is an excellent illustration of the various types of repetition used to enhance important points or ideas. His repetition of prepositions,

  • “Government of the people, by the people, for the people,”

along with repeated sentence patterns exemplified by

  • “Now we are engaged … We are met on a great … We have come to dedicate …,”

illustrate the use of repetition to highlight the importance of ideas and to accentuate meaning. This use of repetition of parts of sentences Opens in new window, such as prepositional phrasesOpens in new window, adverbial phrasesOpens in new window, along with introductory clausesOpens in new window serves to highlight the author's (speaker or writer) important views. Use of repetition, however, should be minimal and selective so as to avoid monotonyOpens in new window to the reader or to the listener. — (Theresa Enos, Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times To The Information Age)