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I find that I use the colon far too often in my writing. Specifically, I use the following construction too often:

statement: explanation or example

Here are some concrete versions of this:

Paradoxically, the most intensive work I have done seems to have been the least productive: when I stressed and crammed for exams all the things I learned were forgotten soon afterwards.

[...]

Even activities which seemed completely unproductive would ultimately reward me: by playing lots of video games I got an intuitive sense of how rigid bodies would interact.

I would like to avoid using the colon in the exact same way so frequently as it results in very repetitive structure. Is there an alternative construction which would server a similar purpose?

I am new to this SE, so help with tagging would be greatly appreciated.

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    Consider the full-stop as a drop-in replacement for those examples. The paragraph sufficiently binds the pieces together. – Lawrence Dec 29 '19 at 12:32
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    It would be sad to see the colon disappear completely (that sounds vaguely self-contradictory). But you're right; overuse looks dreadful. It's old-fashioned in running text. A dash is almost always a straight replacement that works. An ellipsis is sometimes a good choice. Two sentences or a semicolon are usually allowable, but fail to show the cohesion between clauses that might well be preferred. // I'd use a dash in both of your sentences, but retain the colon in the formulaic (formulas aren't always bad) 'statement: explanation or example' etc. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 29 '19 at 12:33
  • The alternative to the colon is a bag on the side of your stomach. – Hot Licks Dec 29 '19 at 14:08
  • Downvotes are best accompanied by an explanation so I know how to improve this question and future questions. – shayaan Dec 31 '19 at 13:21
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What you're noticing is that the rhythm of your sentences becomes monotonous if you're using the same construction too often. Using alternate punctuation will not necessarily solve this problem. Keep your ears open and edit your prose to create a pleasing rhythm. Try adding a more explicit conjunction (use words rather than punctuation); try flipping the order of your clauses. Listen for where the emphasis falls so that your most important point gets the most attention.

Here are some ideas for edits.

  1. Paradoxically, the most intensive work I have done seems to have been the least productive. For example, when I stressed and crammed for exams, the things I learned were forgotten soon afterwards.

2a. By playing lots of video games, I got an intuitive sense of how rigid bodies would interact. Thus, activities which seemed completely unproductive would ultimately reward me.

2b. By playing lots of video games, I got an intuitive sense of how rigid bodies would interact; thus, activities which seemed completely unproductive ultimately rewarded me.

I have a feeling that I don't need to encourage you to keep the colon construction in your writing: you already know how effective and satisfying it can be.

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  • Hello, CMartin. While your answer looks fine, questions (and answers) dealing with writing advice / styles are off-topic on ELU; they are a close fit with questions on Writing.SE. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 29 '19 at 13:40
  • Ah rats, @EdwinAshworth, I deleted this question from Writing.SE as I thought this was a matter of punctuation, but this answer does highlight the deeper issues with my writing, hoping it would be fine to keep – shayaan Dec 29 '19 at 13:44

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