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Emphasis and Attention


Explanations > Perception > Attention > Emphasis and Attention

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Emphasize important things that you say, do or write, particularly key words and phrases. People will pay more attention to the things you emphasize.

Ways to add emphasis include:

  • Say emphasis words more loudly.
  • Say emphasis words more slowly.
  • Use few words and short sentences.
  • Use repetition to emphasize a key word.
  • Add body language to emphasize points, such as chopping movements or thrusting the head forward.
  • Use words that polarize, such as 'terrible' rather than 'poor'.
  • Use superlatives, such as 'best' rather than vaguer words such as 'good'.
  • Use emotive words, such as 'anguished' rather than
  • Use exclamations in your speech.
  • Add Emphasis markers in writing, such as bold, italic or underline.
  • Use brighter hues and the red end of the spectrum in images.
  • Use larger areas of a single shade in images.

Beware of using too much emphasis that wears people out and drowns key points.


We must do this now. There is no choice. It is essential.

An advert contains a large picture of a smiling baby as it eats the promoted baby food. Underneath is just the words 'Happy baby!' followed by a picture of a packet of the baby food.

He was so awful to me. I've never, ever been treated that way.


Emphasis is a form of exaggeration or amplification, making things bigger in some way than they really are. This may use exaggeration words or may just use normal words that are delivered in an exaggerated way that gives them an enhanced significance.

The use of emphasis in speech is very common and is an accepted way of talking that sends subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) signals to tell the listener where the important parts are and so focus their attention. An effect of this common usage is that people become so used to it that it does not stand out. Yet it still has the required result. This makes emphasis a potentially powerful unconscious method.

Some people, in trying to get the attention of others, make over-use of emphasis to the point that it becomes very noticeable. The result of this is that people tire of the apparent neediness and start to ignore the person and downplay what they say. The end result is that the person becomes further marginalized and are never taken seriously.

Adverts make use of subtle (and not so subtle) emphasis in all kinds of ways, grabbing your eyes with text and images that are slightly larger, brighter and so on.

So what?

Use emphasis to draw attention to things. However, beware of over-using it as this will lead people to ignore what you say and possibly try to avoid you altogether.

You can also use emphasis to draw attention away from other things that you want to avoid.

See also

Using Emphasis, Emphasis in Writing, Emphasis with body language, Intensifiers, Punch Words, Amplification principle, Repetition principle


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