Style and Emotional Language for Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test Study Guide
Just as word choice can alert you to a writer's underlying message, so can other aspects of a writer's style. Style is the distinctive way in which a writer uses language to inform or promote an idea. In addition to word choice, a writer's style consists of three basic components:
- sentence structure
- degree of detail or description
- degree of formality
When you read a magazine, newspaper, or book, consider how the writer uses sentences. Does the writer use short, simple sentences or long, complex sentences, packed with clauses and phrases? Writers use different sentence structures to create different effects: They may make short declarative statements in order to persuade readers or long descriptions to create a flow that pleases the reader's ear.
Degree of detail refers to how specific an author is in describing something. For example, a writer may use a general term (dog, beach, government) or specific terms (German shepherd, Crane's Beach, British Parliament). In evaluating the strength of a writer's argument, consider whether terms are too general to provide adequate evidence.
Degree of formality refers to how formal or casual the writer's language is. Technical jargon or terminology is an example of formal language. Colloquial phrases and slang are examples of casual language. Writers create distance and a sense of objectivity when they use formal language, whereas slang expresses familiarity. The degree of formality a writer uses should be appropriate to his purpose and message. For example, a business missive that uses slang is likely to put off its audience, whereas a novel aimed at teenage readers may use slang to appeal to its audience.
When writers want to persuade a reader of something, they may rely on emotional language. Emotional language targets a reader's emotions—fears, beliefs, values, prejudices—instead of appealing to a reader's reason or critical thinking. Just as advertising often uses emotional language to sell a product, writers use emotional appeals to sell an idea. Here are five techniques to look out for as you read:
- Bandwagon. The basic message of a bandwagon appeal is that "everyone else is doing something, so you should, too." It appeals to the reader's desire to join the crowd or be on the winning team. Examples from advertising include: "Americans buy more of our brand than any other brand," or "the toothpaste picky parents choose."
- Common man. In this approach, writers try to convince a reader that their message is just plain old common sense. Colloquial language or phrases and common jokes are examples of this technique.
- Generalities. In this approach, writers use words or phrases that evoke deep emotions and carry strong associations for most people. By doing so, a writer can appeal to readers' emotions so that they will accept his message without evaluating it. Generalities are vague so that readers supply their own interpretations and do not ask further questions. Examples of generalities are honor, peace, freedom, or home.
- Labeling or name calling. This method links a negative label, name, or phrase to a person, group, or belief. Name calling can be a direct attack that appeals to hates or fears, or it can be indirect, appealing to a sense of ridicule. Labels can evoke deep emotions, such as Communist or terrorist. Others can be negatively charged, depending on the situation: yuppie, slacker, reactionary.
- Testimonial. In advertising, athletes promote a range of products, from cereal to wristwatches. Likewise, a writer may use a public figure, expert, or other respected person to endorse an idea or support the writer's argument. Because readers may respect or admire the person, they may be less critical and more willing to accept an idea.
Tone Makes Meaning
You can detect a writer's tone—his mood or attitude as conveyed through language—from a writer's choices about point of view, language use, and style. PPST questions will sometimes ask you to evaluate and summarize a writer's tone. When you read material in preparation for the exam, always think about the tone of each passage. Here are some common words that describe tone:
cheerful apologetic sarcastic complimentary critical playful hopeful humorous authoritative gloomy ironic indifferent
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