Similes and Metaphors Can Spice Up Your Writing

Figurative language can spice up your essays and papers. Well-places similes or metaphors can help the reader’s interest, especially when it comes to a long, factual paragraph that can otherwise be a slog to read through.

Similes and metaphors are likely the most useful pieces of figurative language for your academic papers.  It’s a way to make linguistic points and comparisons in an interesting way; an imaginative description or figure of speech can really enhance your writing.

A simile is an explicit comparison, with both sides stated, and is usually connected by “like” or “as”.  If you say someone “runs as fast as the wind” or say that someone “is like Robin Hood”, you’re using a simile.  You don’t literally mean that someone is as fast as the wind, but by using that simile, you’re getting across the meaning in a more interesting way than simply saying “they were very fast”.

A metaphor is the same sort of comparison, but you imply it without using “like” or “as”.  If you say “he was a wet blanket”, you don’t literally mean he’s made of cloth and is soaking wet; you mean he’s someone who spoils people’s fun.  When Shakespeare said “all the world’s a stage”, he didn’t mean that the world is literally a stage; he meant that everyone puts on a performance as if they were an actor on the stage.

Similes and metaphors make your writing more interesting and fun to read, but you need to make sure you use them sparingly and properly.  If you use too many metaphors, you not only run the risk of the reader rolling their eyes as you put comparison after comparison after comparison into your text, but also the danger of mixing metaphors.  When you have two or more metaphors in the same spot, sometimes, they can crash into one another and make both less effective.

For example, consider the phrase “he is a snake in the grass with his head in the clouds”.  Both metaphors make sense—a snake in the grass in a shady, conniving, treacherous person, while someone with their head in the clouds has their head filled with unrealistic ideas.  But picture the literal meaning for the moment—that would have to be some pretty tall grass, and a pretty big snake, for it to be both in the grass and the clouds at the same time.  The two metaphors crash into one another jarringly, taking your reader out of your text and probably getting them to roll their eyes.

There are plenty of other types of figurative language you can use to spice up your writing—personification, hyperbole, symbolism and so forth—but similes and metaphors are both the easiest to use and the best to fit in to academic writing.  As long as you don’t overuse them, they can be a great resource to have your writing stand out from the pack.


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