October 17, 2017

Alliterate a little list

‘A spoonful of alliteration helps the medicine go down’

I’m a sucker for an alliterative list.

When a client asked me to write a piece on the 28 languages now available on her company’s technology, I wrote this lead:

“Whether you speak Chinese or Czech, Korean or Catalan, Finnish or French, Tetra radios speak your language.”

Got a list? Why not alliterate a little?

“A spoonful of alliteration helps the medicine go down,” write Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

It helps the listings go down, too.

Siddhartha Mukherjee uses this approach to communicate a list of side effects in The Emperor of All Maladies:

“The acute, short-term effects of nitrogen mustard — the respiratory complications, the burnt skin, the blisters, the blindness — were so amply monstrous that its long-term effects were overlooked.”

Help readers remember. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink writes that there are three reasons we’re moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age:

“Abundance, Asia, Automation”

Alliterating a short list like this serves as a mnemonic: It makes the list easier to remember, especially for listeners at TED conferences, where Pink is a frequent speaker.

“Alliterative words … give listeners’ and readers’ minds an auditory hook on which to hang a memory,” writes Sam Horn, president of Action Seminars/Consulting, “Alliterating the key words tickles our intellect and makes ideas easier to grasp and remember.”

Communicate range. Alliteration works for a range as well as a list.

In Innocent, Scott Turow writes:

“But even by the standards of somebody whose emotional temperature usually ranges from blah to blue, I’ve been in a bad way awaiting today.”

I alliterate both a range and a list in my bio:

“Ann’s workshops take her from Hollywood to Helsinki, helping communicators in organizations like NASA, Nike and Nokia polish their skills and find new inspiration for their work.”

Alliterate a list today. Have a long, random list to alliterate? Use The Alphabetizer to quickly sort your list into alphabetical order.

How can you use alliteration to make your language more lyrical?

  • Play With Your Words

    Neurologists call it “the pleasure of the text,” the reward readers get from figuring out figurative language. (It can be quite a reward: If your wordplay is funny enough, your readers’ brains even deliver a little dose of dopamine. Nice!)

    That good feeling puts readers in an agreeable mood and may even open their minds to your message. In fact, one study found that ads using rhetorical techniques were 166% more likely to persuade readers and 229% more likely to be remembered than ads that did not.

    The good news is that wordplay doesn’t take talent. It doesn’t take creativity. Instead, it takes techniques, tricks and time.

    At Portland creative writing workshopMaster the Art of the Storyteller — a two-day creative writing master class on July 25-26, 2018 in Portland — you’ll learn how to:

    • Go beyond twist of phrase: Learn to flip phrases; compress details; sub soundalikes; list, rhyme and twist — even coin new words.
    • Find online tools that do most of the work for you: Walk away with links to some of the best (free!) wordplay resources — as well as ideas for how to use them.
    • Polish your skills in our wordplay workout: Get “recipes” for creating 14 types of wordplay, from anagram to etymology to oxymoron. (And yes, that portmanteau does make your butt look smaller.)
    • Get inspired by some of the world’s most creative headlines.
    • Stop writing groaners: Learn techniques that let you come up with surprising lines — and leave the clichés to the hacks.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Master the Art of Storytelling Workshop in Portland

    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Make Your Copy More Creative workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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