8.2 Considering how sentence development and word choice affect how the writer is perceived by an audience

6 min readjanuary 18, 2023



AP English Language ✍🏽

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This study guide will cover how you can use sentence development (syntax) and word choice (diction) to change the way your writing is perceived by the reader. We'll discuss the impact of various aspects of sentence development like structure and parallelism, as mentioned in study guide 7.4, on the reader's interpretation of the text. Additionally, we'll explore how strategic word choice can improve your writing.
By the end of this study guide, you should have a better understanding of how syntax and diction influence reader perception and be equipped with the tools to effectively use them in your own writing.

What is Syntax?

Syntax is the way words, phrases, and clauses are put together to form meaningful sentences. In study guide 7.4, we looked at various aspects of sentence development. Let’s summarize what we learned then.

Four Sentence Structures

  • Simple: One independent clause.
  • Compound: Two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction.
  • Complex: One independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.
  • Compound-Complex: Two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

Other Sentence Development Techniques

  • Active voice: sentence structure where the subject performs the verb.
  • Passive voice: sentence structure where the subject does not perform a verb.
  • Parallel structures: sentences/phrases with the same word pattern to express similar ideas. 
  • Anaphora: repetition of a phrase at the beginning of successive clauses/sentences. 
  • Rhetorical question: used to emphasize a point or make the reader think.

What is Diction?

Diction was covered in study guide 7.2. It refers to the words an author or speaker chooses to use, as well as their connotations and denotations. It's all about creating a particular atmosphere or feeling, and helps determine the tone of the text. For example, you can choose to use formal, informal, neutral, or colloquial words. Using precise and specific language can help create vivid imagery and emphasize certain points, while using general terms can make a piece sound dull or vague.
In summary, it's important to be mindful of the words you use when writing, since they can have a big impact on how your ideas are interpreted.

Applications and Impact of Syntax

Now, let’s look at how you can apply syntax and diction to impart particular ideas and feelings to the reader.

1. Emphasize certain points

Syntax can emphasize a certain point in an essay by using shorter, more concise sentences to draw attention to a specific idea. For example, in an essay discussing The Crucible, the following might be used:
“The Crucible serves as an allegory for McCarthyism. An overwhelming fear of being accused runs throughout the play, reflecting the terror of those accused during the Red Scare.”
Here, the shorter first sentence draws attention to the main point of the argument, emphasizing it with its brevity.
Another way to emphasize a point is to use parallel structures. For instance, in an essay about the importance of education, you could write:
"Education provides knowledge and understanding; skill and competence; confidence and self-esteem.”
Providing two positive qualities linked with the word “and” lets the audience know you deem the point important enough to be somewhat repetitive.

2. Come as more sophisticated and knowledgeable

By using complex sentence structures, you can elaborate on an idea and show the reader you understand the prompt fully. For example, rather than simply stating "The main theme of The Crucible is fear," you could write:
"In The Crucible, Arthur Miller illuminates the destructive power of fear that can arise from paranoia, distrust, and superstition."
This syntax allows the writer to convey the same idea in a more nuanced and poetic way.

3. Add complexity and depth to a sentence

By using subordinate clauses, adverbs, adjectives, and other elements, a writer can make a sentence more interesting and thought-provoking. For example, when discussing the value of plays as learning materials in the English classroom, you could write:
"Plays provide an immersive experience which not only reveals the nuances of language and communication, but also gives students an opportunity to explore themes and characters in ways that are impossible with other literary forms."
By constructing this sentence with complex syntax, the writer has created an argument that is more concrete and convincing than if the same point had been made without such detail.
Overall, syntax and sentence development can have a huge impact on how an audience perceives a writer. With careful word choice and arrangement, a writer can create sentences that are more meaningful and memorable for the audience.

Applications and Impact of Diction

1. Create a certain tone/mood in the writing

Depending on the choice of words and phrasing, a writer can make a sentence sound more serious, sarcastic, or playful, depending on the subject matter and intended effect on the reader.
When arguing that physical books are better than ebooks in school, you could use diction to create a tone of authority and conviction. For instance, you might say:
“Physical books allow you to have a more tangible connection with your learning materials, as opposed to the intangibility of electronic files.”
“The tactile experience of flipping through a book cannot be replaced by the impersonal screen of an e-reader.”
These phrases create a strong argument for the superiority of physical books without losing any of the persuasive power of the writer's words.
Additionally, diction can be used to create a tone of reverence and appreciation. For example, in an essay about the importance of libraries in communities, consider this sentence: "Libraries contain many resources for everyone," and compare it to this one:
"Libraries are valuable public institutions that provide a treasure trove of knowledge to all individuals regardless of their socio-economic status. "
By using positive and descriptive words like “treasure trove” and “valuable,” you can more effectively convey your argument about the importance of libraries.

2. Add specificity and nuance

Diction can help clarify your argument, showing the reader that you are knowledgeable enough to make a specific stance on the topic of discussion.
For example, here’s a passage from a theoretical essay on the benefits of trade education in schools.
"Trade education in schools provides a unique opportunity for students to develop essential skills, such as problem-solving, communication, and collaboration. It also offers a hands-on approach to learning that can be both engaging and educational. Trade education has the potential to broaden students' perspectives, increase confidence, and provide them with knowledge of the latest technology and techniques."
Using the term “unique” in the sentence adds a sense of specificity and nuance to the essay. It implies that there is something special about trade education that sets it apart from other forms of education. This can be further reinforced by words such as “engaging” and “educational,” which provide more detail and help to paint a clearer picture of the positive aspects of trade education in schools. Additionally, terms like “broaden perspectives,” “increase confidence,” and “latest technology and techniques” add further specificity to the essay, helping readers to envision the ways in which trade education can be an invaluable asset to students.
Using the right words is important when writing essays since it helps get your thoughts and opinions across clearly and briefly.  Ultimately, careful selection of diction can help create a powerful essay that resonates with readers.


Syntax and diction both play an important role in conveying ideas effectively to readers. Syntax can be used to emphasize certain points and make them more impactful, while diction can create a certain tone/mood in your writing and add specificity and nuance to sentences. Both are essential tools for crafting and supporting powerful arguments.
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🤔Exam Skills
🥇Unit 1 – Claims, Reasoning, & Evidence
🗂️Unit 2 – Organizing Information for a Specific Audience
👀Unit 3 – Perspectives & How Arguments Relate
🔚Unit 4 – How writers develop arguments, intros, & conclusions
🎀Unit 5 – How a writer brings all parts of an argument together
👥Unit 6 – Position, Perspective, & Bias
🥊Unit 7 – Successful & Unsuccessful Arguments
😎Unit 8 – Stylistic Choices
😈Unit 9 – Developing a Complex Argument
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