This commentary by Tessa Wong of the Straits Times addresses superbly yet succinctly some of the most important trends in the Singaporean society and body politic:
- how the Internet is exposing Singaporeans to worldwide influences, and giving them a platform to express themselves and marshal others to their cause
- how Singaporeans are becoming bolder and more outspoken, including against the government they used to fear
- whether the greater divisions in society arising from a more vocal populace will strengthen or weaken Singapore as a society and nation
- whether Singapore society is maturing
- how to preserve social cohesion even in a more divided and fractious society
Apart from content, I also love Tessa’s language in the article. Crisp, clear, concise, precise, elegant. GP students have much to learn from her. I always advise my students to not only read a lot, but also to constantly learn from the language used by outstanding writers.
Let’s examine these three sentences in her article:
This is not to say that passionate debate has no impact on social harmony; to believe so would be to remain naive to the power of words and emotions.
Tessa uses the semicolon beautifully to bisect a nearly symmetrical sentence. The semicolon is the most elegant and classy of all punctuations, and is especially beautiful when used to bisect a sentence of profound meaning.
It is also an increasingly vocal population, fuelled by frustrations over the failure of the Government to anticipate problems in housing supply and public transport.
Here, Tessa employs the simple yet highly effective literary technique known as alliteration (yes, you might remember it from your secondary school days)– using two or more words with the same first letter, in close proximity to one another. In this case ‘fuelled’, ‘frustrations’ and ‘failure’. Try saying “fuelled by frustrations over the failure” out loud with emphasis on the ‘f’ sound. Alliteration creates a very nice sound effect in writing, simple but catchy.
The Internet has allowed citizens to be more connected and plugged in to activist movements elsewhere, while giving everyone a platform to air their grievances and marshal like-minded people to their various causes.
Now you might be asking, what’s so special about this sentence? Well, it’s not spectacular or poetic but we shouldn’t only learn from spectacular sentences. It must be really tiresome to read (or write!) an essay whose every sentence is spectacular! It is even more important to execute more routine, mundane sentences well and here Tessa does it to perfection. Notice the comma, for instance. If that comma were not there, what effect would it have on the sentence? Answer: It would make the sentence very tiring to read because it is very long. The humble comma here provides a much-needed rest to the reader.
Even the smallest things like these can make a difference to the flow and fluency – and ultimately the pleasure the reader derives – from your writing. Remember: all big things are made up of little things.
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