STYLE DEFINED. Style, or the manner in which ideas and emotions are

expressed, is as important in special feature writing as it is in any

other kind of literary work. A writer may select an excellent subject,

may formulate a definite purpose, and may choose the type of article

best suited to his needs, but if he is unable to express his thoughts

effectively, his article will be a failure. Style is not to be regarded

as mere ornament added to ordinary forms of expression. It is not an

incidental element, but rather the fundamental part of all literary

composition, the means by which a writer transfers what is in his own

mind to the minds of his readers. It is a vehicle for conveying ideas

and emotions. The more easily, accurately, and completely the reader

gets the author's thoughts and feelings, the better is the style.

The style of an article needs to be adapted both to the readers and to

the subject. An article for a boys' magazine would be written in a style

different from that of a story on the same subject intended for a Sunday

newspaper. The style appropriate to an entertaining story on odd

superstitions of business men would be unsuitable for a popular

exposition of wireless telephony. In a word, the style of a special

article demands as careful consideration as does its subject, purpose,

and structure.

Since it may be assumed that any one who aspires to write for newspapers

and magazines has a general knowledge of the principles of composition

and of the elements and qualities of style, only such points of style as

are important in special feature writing will be discussed in this


The elements of style are: (1) words, (2) figures of speech, (3)

sentences, and (4) paragraphs. The kinds of words, figures, sentences,

and paragraphs used, and the way in which they are combined, determine

the style.

WORDS. In the choice of words for popular articles, three points are

important: (1) only such words may be used as are familiar to the

average person, (2) concrete terms make a much more definite impression

than general ones, and (3) words that carry with them associated ideas

and feelings are more effective than words that lack such intellectual

and emotional connotation.

The rapid reader cannot stop to refer to the dictionary for words that

he does not know. Although the special feature writer is limited to

terms familiar to the average reader, he need not confine himself to

commonplace, colloquial diction; most readers know the meaning of many

more words than they themselves use in everyday conversation. In

treating technical topics, it is often necessary to employ some

unfamiliar terms, but these may readily be explained the first time they

appear. Whenever the writer is in doubt as to whether or not his readers

will understand a certain term, the safest course is to explain it or to

substitute one that is sure to be understood.

Since most persons grasp concrete ideas more quickly than abstract ones,

specific words should be given the preference in popular articles. To

create concrete images must be the writer's constant aim. Instead of a

general term like "walk," for example, he should select a specific,

picture-making word such as hurry, dash, run, race, amble, stroll,

stride, shuffle, shamble, limp, strut, stalk. For the word "horse" he

may substitute a definite term like sorrel, bay, percheron, nag,

charger, steed, broncho, or pony. In narrative and descriptive writing

particularly, it is necessary to use words that make pictures and that

reproduce sounds and other sense impressions. In the effort to make his

diction specific, however, the writer must guard against bizarre effects

and an excessive use of adjectives and adverbs. Verbs, quite as much as

nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, produce clear, vivid images when

skillfully handled.

Some words carry with them associated ideas and emotions, while others

do not. The feelings and ideas thus associated with words constitute

their emotional and intellectual connotation, as distinct from their

logical meaning, or denotation. The word "home," for example, denotes

simply one's place of residence, but it connotes all the thoughts and

feelings associated with one's own house and family circle. Such a word

is said to have a rich emotional connotation because it arouses strong

feeling. It also has a rich intellectual connotation since it calls up

many associated images. Words and phrases that are peculiar to the Bible

or to the church service carry with them mental images and emotions

connected with religious worship. In a personality sketch of a spiritual

leader, for example, such words and phrases would be particularly

effective to create the atmosphere with which such a man might very

appropriately be invested. Since homely, colloquial expressions have

entirely different associations, they would be entirely out of keeping

with the tone of such a sketch, unless the religious leader were an

unconventional revivalist. A single word with the wrong connotation may

seriously affect the tone of a paragraph. On the other hand, words and

phrases rich in appropriate suggestion heighten immeasurably the

effectiveness of an article.

The value of concrete words is shown in the following paragraphs taken

from a newspaper article describing a gas attack:

There was a faint green vapor, which swayed and hung under the lee

of the raised parapet two hundred yards away. It increased in

volume, and at last rose high enough to be caught by the wind. It

strayed out in tattered yellowish streamers toward the English

lines, half dissipating itself in twenty yards, until the steady

outpour of the green smoke gave it reinforcement and it made

headway. Then, creeping forward from tuft to tuft, and preceded by

an acrid and parching whiff, the curling and tumbling vapor reached

the English lines in a wall twenty feet high.

As the grayish cloud drifted over the parapet, there was a stifled

call from some dozen men who had carelessly let their protectors

drop. The gas was terrible. A breath of it was like a wolf at the

throat, like hot ashes in the windpipe.

The yellowish waves of gas became more greenish in color as fresh

volumes poured out continually from the squat iron cylinders which

had now been raised and placed outside the trenches by the Germans.

The translucent flood flowed over the parapet, linking at once on

the inner side and forming vague, gauzy pools and backwaters, in

which men stood knee deep while the lighter gas was blown in their

faces over the parapet.

FAULTS IN DICTION. Since newspaper reporters and correspondents are

called upon day after day to write on similar events and to write at top

speed, they are prone to use the same words over and over again, without

making much of an effort to "find the one noun that best expresses the

idea, the one verb needed to give it life, and the one adjective to

qualify it." This tendency to use trite, general, "woolly" words instead

of fresh, concrete ones is not infrequently seen in special feature

stories written by newspaper workers. Every writer who aims to give to

his articles some distinction in style should guard against the danger

of writing what has aptly been termed "jargon." "To write jargon," says

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in his book, "On the Art of Writing," "is to be

perpetually shuffling around in the fog and cotton-wool of abstract

terms. So long as you prefer abstract words, which express other men's

summarized concepts of things, to concrete ones which lie as near as can

be reached to things themselves and are the first-hand material for your

thoughts, you will remain, at the best, writers at second-hand. If your

language be jargon, your intellect, if not your whole character, will

almost certainly correspond. Where your mind should go straight, it will

dodge; the difficulties it should approach with a fair front and grip

with a firm hand it will be seeking to evade or circumvent. For the

style is the man, and where a man's treasure is there his heart, and his

brain, and his writing, will be also."

FIGURES OF SPEECH. To most persons the term "figure of speech" suggests

such figures as metonymy and synecdoche, which they once learned to

define, but never thought of using voluntarily in their own writing.

Figures of speech are too often regarded as ornaments suited only to

poetry or poetical prose. With these popular notions in mind, a writer

for newspapers and magazines may quite naturally conclude that

figurative expressions have little or no practical value in his work.

Figures of speech, however, are great aids, not only to clearness and

conciseness, but to the vividness of an article. They assist the reader

to grasp ideas quickly and they stimulate his imagination and his


Association of ideas is the principle underlying figurative expressions.

By a figure of speech a writer shows his readers the relation between a

new idea and one already familiar to them. An unfamiliar object, for

example, is likened to a familiar one, directly, as in the simile, or by

implication, as in the metaphor. As the object brought into relation

with the new idea is more familiar and more concrete, the effect of the

figure is to simplify the subject that is being explained, and to make

it more easy of comprehension.

A figure of speech makes both for conciseness and for economy of mental

effort on the part of the reader. To say in a personality sketch, for

example, that the person looks "like Lincoln" is the simplest, most

concise way of creating a mental picture. Or to describe a smoothly

running electric motor as "purring," instantly makes the reader hear the

sound. Scores of words may be saved, and clearer, more vivid impressions

may be given, by the judicious use of figures of speech.

As the familiar, concrete objects introduced in figures frequently have

associated emotions, figurative expressions often make an emotional

appeal. Again, to say that a person looks "like Lincoln" not only

creates a mental picture but awakes the feelings generally associated

with Lincoln. The result is that readers are inclined to feel toward the

person so described as they feel toward Lincoln.

Even in practical articles, figurative diction may not be amiss. In

explaining a method of splitting old kitchen boilers in order to make

watering troughs, a writer in a farm journal happily described a cold

chisel as "turning out a narrow shaving of steel and rolling it away

much as the mold-board of a plow turns the furrow."

The stimulating effect of a paragraph abounding in figurative

expressions is well illustrated by the following passage taken from a

newspaper personality sketch of a popular pulpit orator:

His mind is all daylight. There are no subtle half-tones, or

sensitive reserves, or significant shadows of silence, no landscape

fading through purple mists to a romantic distance. All is clear,

obvious, emphatic. There is little atmosphere and a lack of that

humor that softens the contours of controversy. His thought is

simple and direct and makes its appeal, not to culture, but to the

primitive emotions. * * * * His strenuousness is a battle-cry to the

crowd. He keeps his passion white hot; his body works like a

windmill in a hurricane; his eyes flash lightnings; he seizes the

enemy, as it were, by the throat, pommels him with breathless blows,

and throws him aside a miserable wreck.

SENTENCES. For rapid reading the prime requisite of a good sentence is

that its grammatical structure shall be evident; in other words, that

the reader shall be able at a glance to see the relation of its parts.

Involved sentences that require a second perusal before they yield their

meaning, are clearly not adapted to the newspaper or magazine. Short

sentences and those of medium length are, as a rule, more easily grasped

than long ones, but for rapid reading the structure of the sentence,

rather than its length, is the chief consideration. Absolute clearness

is of paramount importance.

In hurried reading the eye is caught by the first group of words at the

beginning of a sentence. These words make more of an impression on the

reader's mind than do those in the middle or at the end of the sentence.

In all journalistic writing, therefore, the position of greatest

emphasis is the beginning. It is there that the most significant idea

should be placed. Such an arrangement does not mean that the sentence

need trail off loosely in a series of phrases and clauses. Firmness of

structure can and should be maintained even though the strongest

emphasis is at the beginning. In revising his article a writer often

finds that he may greatly increase the effectiveness of his sentences by

so rearranging the parts as to bring the important ideas close to the


LENGTH OF THE SENTENCE. Sentences may be classified according to length

as (1) short, containing 15 words or less; (2) medium, from 15 to 30

words; and (3) long, 30 words or more. Each of these types of sentence

has its own peculiar advantages.

The short sentence, because it is easily apprehended, is more emphatic

than a longer one. Used in combination with medium and long sentences it

gains prominence by contrast. It makes an emphatic beginning and a

strong conclusion for a paragraph. As the last sentence of an article it

is a good "snapper." In contrast with longer statements, it also serves

as a convenient transition sentence.

The sentence of medium length lends itself readily to the expression of

the average thought; but when used continuously it gives to the style a

monotony of rhythm that soon becomes tiresome.

The long sentence is convenient for grouping details that are closely

connected. In contrast with the rapid, emphatic short sentence, it moves

slowly and deliberately, and so is well adapted to the expression of

dignified and impressive thoughts.

To prevent monotony, variety of sentence length is desirable. Writers

who unconsciously tend to use sentences of about the same length and of

the same construction, need to beware of this uniformity.

The skillful use of single short sentences, of series of short

sentences, of medium, and of long sentences, to give variety, to express

thoughts effectively, and to produce harmony between the movement of the

style and the ideas advanced, is well illustrated in the selection

below. It is the beginning of a personality sketch of William II, the

former German emperor, published in the London _Daily News_ before the

world war, and written by Mr. A.G. Gardiner, the editor of that paper.

When I think of the Kaiser I think of a bright May morning at

Potsdam. It is the Spring Parade, and across from where we are

gathered under the windows of the old palace the household troops

are drawn up on the great parade ground, their helmets and banners

and lances all astir in the jolly sunshine. Officers gallop hither

and thither shouting commands. Regiments form and reform. Swords

flash out and flash back again. A noble background of trees frames

the gay picture with cool green foliage. There is a sudden

stillness. The closely serried ranks are rigid and moveless. The

shouts of command are silenced.

"The Kaiser."

He comes slowly up the parade ground on his white charger, helmet

and eagle flashing in the sunshine, sitting his horse as if he lived

in the saddle, his face turned to his men as he passes by.

"Morgen, meine Kinder." His salutation rings out at intervals in the

clear morning air. And back from the ranks in chorus comes the

response: "Morgen, Majest├Ąt."

And as he rides on, master of a million men, the most powerful

figure in Europe, reviewing his troops on the peaceful parade ground

at Potsdam, one wonders whether the day will ever come when he will

ride down those ranks on another errand, and when that cheerful

response of the soldiers will have in it the ancient ring of

doom--"Te morituri salutamus."

For answer, let us look at this challenging figure on the white

charger. What is he? What has he done?

By the three short sentences in the first paragraph beginning "Officers

gallop," the author depicts the rapid movement of the soldiers. By the

next three short sentences in the same paragraph beginning, "There is a

sudden stillness," he produces an impression of suspense. To picture the

Kaiser coming up "slowly," he uses a long, leisurely sentence. The

salutations "ring out" in short, crisp sentences. The more serious,

impressive thought of the possibility of war finds fitting expression in

the long, 64-word sentence, ending with the sonorous--"ring of doom,"

"Te morituri salutamus."

The transition between the introduction and the body of the sketch is

accomplished by the last paragraph consisting of three short sentences,

in marked contrast with the climactic effect with which the description


PARAGRAPHS. The paragraph is a device that aids a writer to convey to

readers his thoughts combined in the same groups in which they are

arranged in his own mind. Since a small group of thoughts is more easily

grasped than a large one, paragraphs in journalistic writing are usually

considerably shorter than those of ordinary English prose. In the narrow

newspaper column, there is room for only five or six words to a line. A

paragraph of 250 words, which is the average length of the literary

paragraph, fills between forty and fifty lines of a newspaper column.

Such paragraphs seem heavy and uninviting. Moreover, the casual reader

cannot readily comprehend and combine the various thoughts in so large a

group of sentences. Although there is no standard column width for

magazines, the number of words in a line does not usually exceed eight.

A paragraph of 250 words that occupies 30 eight-word lines seems less

attractive than one of half that length. The normal paragraph in

journalistic writing seldom exceeds 100 words and not infrequently is

much shorter. As such a paragraph contains not more than four or five

sentences, the general reading public has little difficulty in

comprehending it.

The beginning of the paragraph, like the beginning of the sentence, is

the part that catches the eye. Significant ideas that need to be

impressed upon the mind of the reader belong at the beginning. If his

attention is arrested and held by the first group of words, he is likely

to read on. If the beginning does not attract him, he skips down the

column to the next paragraph, glancing merely at enough words in the

paragraph that he skips to "get the drift of it." An emphatic beginning

for a paragraph will insure attention for its contents.

REVISION. It is seldom that the first draft of an article cannot be

improved by a careful revision. In going over his work, word by word and

sentence by sentence, the writer will generally find many opportunities

to increase the effectiveness of the structure and the style. Such

revision, moreover, need not destroy the ease and naturalness of


To improve the diction of his article, the writer should eliminate (1)

superfluous words, (2) trite phrases, (3) general, colorless words, (4)

terms unfamiliar to the average reader, unless they are explained, (5)

words with a connotation inappropriate to the context, (6) hackneyed and

mixed metaphors. The effectiveness of the expression may often be

strengthened by the addition of specific, picture-making, imitative, and

connotative words, as well as of figures of speech that clarify the

ideas and stimulate the imagination.

Sentences may frequently be improved (1) by making their grammatical

structure more evident, (2) by breaking up long, loose sentences into

shorter ones, (3) by using short sentences for emphasis, (4) by varying

the sentence length, (5) by transferring important ideas to the

beginning of the sentence.

Every paragraph should be tested to determine whether or not it is a

unified, coherent group of thoughts, containing not more than 100 words,

with important ideas effectively massed at the beginning.

Finally, revision should eliminate all errors in grammar, spelling,

punctuation, and capitalization. Every minute spent in improving an

article adds greatly to its chances of being accepted.

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