Essay and research paper topics & ideas

Essay writing: main figures of speech

There are a multitude of figures of speech which can be used to spice up your college essays. These stylistic devices can be used to make your essay more appealing to the reader, improve its written flow, express information more clearly or in a more interesting manner, to persuade your reader and change their perspective and much more. Here are a few major figures of speech that are easy and effective when incorporated into an essay writing assignment:


Alliteration is commonly used in advertising and media, and it has its place in essay writing as well. Typically when presented in media, it’s done so in an unsubtle manner that’s meant simply to make the words very memorable to the hearer. In essay writing, the intention is usually more subtle. Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of consecutive words, like so:

Sally’s slippery sandals caused her to slide sideways down the slick sidewalk.

In an essay, one need not use alliteration to that degree, but pairing adjectives with nouns which start with the same letter (slippery sandals, snowy streets, luscious lips) can be very effective in drawing the reader in.


Personification or anthropomorphism can be used to imbue a scene with emotion in an indirect way. These are figures of speech which ascribe human emotions or motives to inanimate objects or animals. They can be especially effective when used for foreshadowing. For example:

Heather’s alarm clock blared angrily and the rain slapped at the window, futilely trying to break through.

We know the alarm clock isn’t angry and the rain isn’t trying to do anything, but these descriptions let the reader know that Heather may be in for a difficult day.


Onomatopoeia refers to the use of words which mimic a non-verbal sound. These can be words which have no meaning other than to imitate the sound (like “BAM BAM BAM!” for someone knocking on a door), or a word with an associated meaning which also imitates a sound (like the snap, snap of twigs snapping underfoot). This figure of speech can be very helpful in evoking the reader’s senses.


Hyperbole is a type of exaggeration used to help the reader understand the intensity of a situation. For example, “I was ready to kill him, right then and there,” probably doesn’t literally mean the speaker was contemplating murder. It does, however, let the reader know that they were extremely angry.