Word arrangement is a powerful technique of composition, yet few writers are taught its importance.
Ask any college student where the natural stress points fall in a sentence, and you'll get a puzzled look. Ask anyone in your office, and you'll get a response like "Stress points? I feel stress every time I write."
Beginnings and endings count more than middles. It's a principle as simple as it is broad. Whether the first and last words in a sentence, the first and last sentences in a paragraph or the first and last paragraphs in a document, what comes first and last has more impact than what occurs in the middle.
As an illustration of opening emphasis, move twice now to the beginning of this sentence: "You've asked me twice now to respond on short notice."
Likewise, delete the first two words in this sentence: "In order to increase emphasis, launch your sentences economically."
In paragraphs and documents, the opening and closing emphasis is about equal. In sentences, however, the last words have greater emphasis. The reason? Pauses create emphasis, and the period, as the British call it, is a "full stop."
For a musical analogy, think of periods -- along with question marks, exclamation marks, colons and dashes -- as whole note rests, semicolons as half note rests and commas as quarter note rests. The longer the rest, the greater the emphasis.
Consider this sentence: "The evidence is clear that we'll be bankrupt by the end of the year if we don't reduce costs and increase revenue."
To emphasize the threat of bankruptcy, move bankrupt to the end: "The evidence is clear that if we don't reduce costs and increase revenue, by the end of the year we'll be bankrupt."
To further shape the sentence, insert a whole note rest (either a colon or a dash) after the first clause: "The evidence is clear: If we don't reduce costs and increase revenue, by the end of the year we'll be bankrupt."
It's not just what you say; it's also how you say it. And it's not just what words you use; it's also where you place them. Word placement and pauses are powerful techniques of emphasis.
Here's another example: "Unfortunately, their decisions are based more on their administrative concerns than on the educational merits of our programs."
To give the important words more emphasis, move educational merits to the end of the sentence: "Unfortunately, their decisions are based more on their administrative concerns than on our programs' educational merits."
To continue the musical analogy, think of the closing words in the sentence as the downbeat. Make sure that what appears there are the words you want to stress.
One more example. I think you'll like this one. Rearrange the order of the words to re-create George Bernard Shaw's sentence: "Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a desire that is horizontal."
Here's how the playwright gave it to us: "Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire."