If you want to make something stand out in your writing, place it next to something that is so unlike it that it makes an important point. Placing unlike things side by side to emphasize the contrast is called juxtaposition. Yes, it’s a mouthful, and you don’t really want to try to pronounce it with crackers in your mouth.

I ran across an unusual juxtaposition yesterday. There was a college student looking for a summer internship in the oil industry, and a friend sent me his resume. The young man had spent the previous summer as a drilling rig floor hand, drilling five wells successfully and safely. Then further down under Experience he listed a job where he taught ballroom dancing and etiquette to middle school kids at the junior cotillion.

This juxtaposition of making drillpipe connections and throwing a spinning chain next to ballroom dancing and etiquette just cracked me up. How many people do you know with that same set of credentials? What that tells me is, this boy is a gentleman that doesn’t mind getting dirty. He’s not your ordinary roughneck, but more of a diamond in the rough. We sent his resume to the drilling department.

One of my favorite examples of juxtaposition can be used when talking to schoolchildren about the oil industry. When someone brings up environmental issues or oil spills, one can say that the oil industry can be credited with saving the whales. Whales, you see, used to be hunted and killed for their blubber, which was burned as a source of energy for light and heat in Arctic areas – and not that long ago. But because petroleum is now used to generate propane and kerosene and to fuel natural gas-fired power plants, we don’t go around killing whales for energy any more. In fact, it’s illegal in some locales, as several kinds are endangered species. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 banned the hunting of whales in US
So how can you use juxtaposition to make a strong point in that memo you are writing to your boss? Or to that partner who doesn’t believe the simulation results you showed him? Place an iPad next to some punch cards and watch the lightbulb of understanding come on.


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