Skip to main content

The Stress Position

Readers naturally stress the end of the sentence. The stress position is the most important part of the sentence--it is where you present new information.

Readers expect to focus their energy and attention at the end of the sentence, so use this position wisely!

End focus

Choose the most vital word or two and put a period/full stop after it; it ends the sentence. Ending each sentence with words that lead you to the next point connects sentences together and creates flow.

What goes in the stress position depends on the point you wish to make next.

Save your end-focus pearl for last

The when, where, and who can precede the what:

In 2001, a lengthy longitudinal study at Y University led to recognition of a Z variant.

In this sentence, we meet when, how, and where, before we finally meet the exciting what. The sentence leads us to this piece of new information and ends immediately after it. Here, we probably are already familiar with Z, so to let the pearl shine brightly, push the new item, variant, to the end.

Be more concise

If Z is already familiar information and if the type and location of the study are unimportant to the storyline, you can also opt for a shorter, more impactful passive voice:

In 2001, a Z variant was recognized (reference).

This alternative puts the focus on recognizing the new variant. It removes a new study from the topic position (was the reader already thinking about a longitudinal study–was that familiar information?) and puts the action back in the verb (removes the zombie noun). The study and university can easily be found in the reference and don't have to be explicitly stated unless you have a good reason.

More examples

Here, we must apply parallelism and given to new:

The effect of drug X in children is unknown. In adults, however, evidence indicates that X frequently leads to diarrhea.

In adults, X frequently leads to diarrhea; whereas in children, its effect remains unknown.

Here, we push the Nobel Prize to the end for emphasis:

She does fine work that may win her a Nobel Prize within a few years.

She does fine work that, within a few years, may earn her a Nobel Prize.

Choosing the end focus (stress position) also determines your verb

Take these two alternatives:

  1. Over decades, Drug X has shown varying and often contradictory effects on Syndrome Y.
  2. Over decades, Drug X has affected Syndrome Y in different, and sometimes contradictory, ways.

Sentence 1 has a zombie noun and places the emphasis on Syndrome Y. Sentence 2 has a verb and places the emphasis on the ways in which the drug affected the syndrome.

How important is the stress position?

On a scale of 1-10, it's a 10: most important!

Put the new, unfamiliar, heavy, important information at the end of the sentence. To figure out which new information should best be placed at the end, ask yourself what direction your argument is going--what would you like to talk about next? If you can't figure out what your end focus is, ask for help!

Given to New
Logical Gaps
Reader Expectations