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Assume we all use proper grammar. How else can we make what we write clearer and more engaging?

In a recent New Yorker magazine story about the Black entertainer Josephine Baker, who became famous in Paris in the 1920s, the writer was describing Baker's activity in the French resistance to the Nazis and her response to racism in America. Suddenly, a quotation appeared that gave us no idea of who was talking:

"Yesterday as today, France cherishes Black Americans while subjecting its own nationals to 20 times more police checks when they are perceived as Arab or Black," the journalist Rokhaya Diallo wrote.

How much more helpful to the reader to attribute the quote in this way:

"Yesterday as today," the journalist Rokhaya Diallo wrote, "France cherishes Black Americans ..."

Now we know who is speaking, and we do not suffer that moment of wondering, which interrupts the smoothness of the narrative.

Choosing to identify Diallo inside the sentence also creates a rhythmic flow. The technique is called "internal attribution" and it can serve both writers and readers well.

Of course, the writer could introduce Diallo at the start of the sentence. But to do so would sacrifice the opportunity to make language feel like music.

You can label this sort of thing as a nicety — not in the sense of something being nice, but in the sense of delicate precision that makes meaning clearer. A nicety takes the form of a deft touch that goes beyond proper grammar and keeps a reader wanting more.

Another helpful technique: the colon, just as it appears in this very sentence. A colon sets up an expectation, in this case the naming of a technique. A colon also works well to introduce a list of items. Or to introduce a quote — a way to economize by avoiding such a mundane form as "The mayor said ..."

Feedback Department: A reader of my last column, about the weakness of verbs based on the form "to be," sent me this lament: "It is what it is."

Twin Cities writing coach Gary Gilson, who teaches journalism at Colorado College, can be reached through