There are four basic types of writing, commonly referred to as “writing styles.” These styles are Expository, Persuasive/Argumentative, Narrative, and Descriptive. Each style serves a specific purpose, such as explaining how something works or getting people to agree with a point of view. The audience and the purpose determine which writing style is used.
Expository writing explains a particular subject to its readers. It focuses on specific topics and includes relevant facts, figures, and descriptions. It usually describes a process, and information is ordered logically and sequentially. It usually does not include the writer’s opinions or any effort to convince the reader of a certain position on the information. This is one of the most common styles and is used in:
- How-to books and articles
- News stories
- Business writing
- Technical writing
- Scientific writing
Persuasive and/or argumentative writing contains the biases and opinions of the writer. It also includes justifications, reasons, and arguments in an effort to convince the reader to agree with the writer’s opinion, accept an idea, or take an action. This writing is used in:
- Opinion columns
- Editorial pieces
- Advertisements and commercials
- Product reviews
- Sales presentations
- Recommendations and cover letters
Narrative writing is used when telling a story, which can be fact or fiction. This is one of the most versatile styles because it allows writers to create from imagination. In this type of writing the story is central, not the facts. Narrative includes characters and dialogue, tells a story, and has a logical beginning, middle, and end. This style is most often used in:
- Short Stories
Descriptive writing is similar to expository. It explains something to the reader, but it does so with very descriptive language that uses all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) to create a vivid image for the reader. Descriptive writing is often personal and subjective while expository writing is typically impersonal or distant. This style is often used in:
- Love letters
These four styles are related to the purpose of writing. However, style goes beyond purpose. It is also defined by word choice, pacing, structure, voice, and tone.
Word choice is about being precise and concise. Precision is selecting the specific words that convey meaning, create imagery, inspire emotion, and provoke response. Conciseness doesn’t mean writing in short jerky sentences (unless that is a stylistic choice). It means using only the words necessary, eliminating unnecessary flowery, repetitive, complex, and cluttered writing.
Sentence structure is how the words and thoughts are arranged. Are the words logically ordered and easy to follow? Are important ideas placed first to grab attention or later to build momentum and suspense? Are the sentences short and choppy, long-winded, or just right? Are passages smooth and interesting to read?
Sentence flow refers to the rhythm created with techniques such as alliteration, consonance, multi-syllabic words, metaphor, simile, personification, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, and symbolism.
Voice is the perspective in which the information is shared. It is how readers hear the words. Do they hear a formal, objective voice (i.e. the authority of a university or corporate leader) or do they hear the more personal voice of the writer? Voice can also refer to perspective, such as writing in the first or third person.
Tone reflects the writer’s personal style. For instance, is the writing ornate with long, complex sentences? Is it packed with metaphors and imagery? Is it straightforward, with sparse prose and simple sentences? Perhaps it’s conversational rather than formal? Emotional or logical? Serious rather than humorous? Are grammar rules applied rigidly or does the writer play fast and loose with dashes and dots, slang, emoticons, and one-sentence paragraphs?
Writing style develops with time as a writer evolves, experiments, and takes on new projects. Great writers become aware of their natural style and use it often, but they also intentionally practice writing in other styles to become more versatile. What is your natural style and how will you challenge yourself to grow as a writer?
After many years of expository writing for my job, it has been a blast to be able to write narrative fiction in my retirement. The discipline of all that expository writing is paying off: Narrative and dialogue are easy by comparison. I didn't know I was writing in a style all those years; I just did what I had to do. I am not only writing for fun these days, I am also learning about writing, and learning things about it that I simply never thought about while I was mechanically churning out reports. I just learned today that all those reports were "expository", and my novel is "narrative". My occasional "letters to the Editor" were "persuasive/argumentative". I never classified what I was doing; I just wrote what was in my head that needed to be put on paper, without thinking about the differences. Awareness of all this and the ability to look objectively at the process, is an entirely new experience.
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