Why Words Matter: Rhetorical Devices

To have and to hold.

In my last post I discussed grabbing your audience quickly. But that leaves one important question: How?

By using time-tested combinations of sounds to create phrases that interest your audience, you can engage them quickly and often on an entirely unconscious level. These tools are called rhetorical devices. They are the purview of poets, lyricists, novelists, journalists … and you.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to review your entire high school English curriculum. In my opinion, bloggers need to know only four rhetorical devices to create engaging prose. I’ll give you their names, but you don’t have to remember those if you don’t want to. Just remember how these tools work and you’ll be on your way to better, more interesting blog content.

The top four blogger-friendly rhetorical devices are:

 

Alliteration;

Assonance;

Rhyme (all kinds); and

Meter.

 

Why Use Rhetorical Devices?

Rhetorical devices work because the human brain likes patterns. Each of the devices above involves creating a pattern of sounds by using words that are similar in some way.

If you’re skeptical about whether your brain does, in fact, like patterns, ask yourself why nursery rhymes are so catchy or why you can remember your favorite song lyrics. Then read through the next few blog posts. I’ll break these rhetorical devices down so that you understand how and why to use them. In the process, I bet you’ll start recognizing quotes or lyrics or well-known phrases that employ each of these devices, often liberally.

 

Where Do I Use Them?

In your blog title. Your blog title is your first point of contact with your reading public. If you don’t tempt them with your title, they won’t read your post. Use every trick in the book to create effective, catchy titles. Don’t worry too much about sounding cheesy or silly; if you use these devices effectively, you’ll sound engaging and friendly instead.

In your section headers. It is important, though less so, to engage rhetorical devices in your section headers. Many people skim blog posts; if you’ve broken your post up into easy-to-follow sections with clear headers, people may skip to the content in which they’re most interested. Readers who skim are more likely to keep reading if you give them effective section headers so they can jump around at will.

Throughout your prose. Once you learn all about these devices, fire at will (though moderately!) throughout your prose. They’ll work to subtly please your audience, and a pleased audience is an attentive audience.

 

 

As you learn to use these tools, read over your own work and trust your instincts. If you’re bored by yourself, your audience is bored too. Spice up your prose with some new tricks. If, on the other hand, you feel you sound like a bizarre internet nursery rhyme, you’ve gone a bit too far — tone down the prose with some simpler language.

Next up: alliteration! Find out all about one of the oldest — and easiest — tricks in the book. (No, really. I mean in the literal book. As in, every one you’ve ever read. Check out the next few blog posts, and then go look and see!)

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