Sunday, 10 February 2013

Introductory Paragraphs

When I teach writing, which I often have to, I like to teach several simple rhetorical tricks which, together, can raise the quality of what is written. One is anaphora, in which one phrase is repeated to begin several sentences. Another is the list of three. For some reason, three items sound particularly complete and convincing, compared to either two or four. The third is parallel structure. Words may not be repeated, but the form of a clause or phrase may be.

A student had the essay topic, "Is it important that the buildings of downtown Vancouver be beautiful?" We each worked on an introduction to this essay. I tried to use the rhetorical devices listed above plus an opening analogy. The result was this.
A home is a home, even if it is a poor one, but we take pride in it, express joy in it, and share our view of its virtues by making it as clean, beautiful, and welcoming as possible. The same is true of those buildings that stand in and for our cities: the banks and malls and office buildings that are our common space and our collective face. We owe it to ourselves and our guests to design these buildings with a certain beauty.
The first sentence uses the "list of three" trick twice, along with parallel structure among the items of these lists. The "stand in and for" phrase in the second sentence takes advantage of parallel structure. The list of types of buildings stands for all buildings, but suggests that there is a variety among them. The phrase "common space and collective face" uses alliteration and rhyme for emphasis. The paragraph ends with a straightforward thesis statement for the essay.

My style may not be yours, but these tricks are universally helpful.

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