What is Writing Style? - Types, Examples & Quiz
What is writing style? Many people struggle to answer this question, because the answer can be vague. By evaluating several main types of writing and examples of each, we will try to answer this elusive question.
We also recommend watching How to Write With Good Diction to Develop Style, Tone & Point-of-View and What Is the Chicago Citation Style?
What is Writing Style?
Writing style is much like any other type of style in that it helps us express who we are. It is how the writer chooses to express himself or herself through writing. A little vague, right? Well, let's look at personal style for comparison. Each person has their own personal fashion style, whether they mean to or not. The clothes and accessories that I choose to wear each day define my personal style. If I throw on a T-shirt and jeans with some old flip flops, I am expressing a casual and laid back style. On the other hand, if I choose a pencil skirt, nylon stockings, a button down shirt and leather heels, I am showing the world that I mean business. The same goes for writing.
So, should I start wearing leather heels while I write? It could make it interesting, but no. That's not the point. Just like clothes, writing can express a specific style. There are four main types of writing - expository, persuasive, descriptive, and narrative - and each one has a specific style.
Four Main Types of Writing
Expository writing is a general category that includes all types of essays (with the exception of persuasive essays). The main purpose of expository writing is to explain a concept or idea while including details for support. Such writing is usually based on a subject and therefore requires facts, not opinions, for examples and supportive detail. This type of writing is generally used in textbooks or 'how to' articles and essays. As such, these essays and articles follow an organized and logical sequence. An expository style of writing is more formal and straightforward, so the casual language or slang that you would use with friends is not acceptable. Unlike jeans and a T-shirt, this writing is more dressed up, since the audience is serious about understanding a concept.
Slightly similar to expository writing, persuasive writing is usually found in article and essay form. It also relies on specific details and examples for support; however, persuasive writing does not rely heavily on facts. In a persuasive piece, the writer is often expressing an opinion and trying to persuade the audience to do something or to agree with the writer's point of view. It must be clear and concise, but it can also be a bit more forceful and dramatic to help convince the reader. For example, sometimes writers will exaggerate their details to affect the reader in a more emotional way than in an expository essay.
Fiction and poetry are filled with descriptive language, since the purpose is not to inform but to entertain. I sometimes find myself reading this type of writing just to enjoy the beauty of the language and writing itself. Therefore, this style tends to use more adjectives and adverbs, as well as figurative language and imagery, to create detail that allows the reader to envision the scenery and events in their minds.
Like descriptive writing, narrative writing aims to entertain the reader; however, instead of trying to entertain the writer with the beauty of its language, the writer is trying to tell a story. If an author adopts an expository writing style to tell a story, the author can quickly bore the reader. Narrative writing will use more descriptive language and imagery, because the author wants the reader to imagine the characters, scenes, and setting in order to become part of the story's world and to connect to its plot. Narrative writers can also change their style depending on the type of story. For example, if a writer wants to create a suspenseful story, they might use short, choppy sentences to build up to the most exciting moment. Therefore, the genre or category of the narrative can influence the style of writing as well.
Expository / Persuasive
In Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol examines public education in our country and explains the negative role that socio-economic background has on teaching America's children. Here, he discusses East St. Louis. Kozol writes:
East St. Louis - which the local press refers to as 'an inner city without an outer city' - has some of the sickest children in America. Of 66 cities in Illinois, East St. Louis ranks first in fetal death, first in premature birth, and third in infant death. Among the negative factors listed by the city's health director are the sewage running in the streets, air that has been fouled by the local plants, the high lead levels noted in the soil, poverty, lack of education, crime, dilapidated housing, insufficient health care, and unemployment.
Since his purpose is to inform as well as to persuade the reader, he is going to use clear and concise language, as well as including facts and examples to support his ideas.
Descriptive / Narrative
Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is an acclaimed American author. In The Bluest Eye, she describes a setting:
There is an abandoned store on the southeast corner of Broadway and Thirty-Fifth Street in Lorain, Ohio. It does not recede into its background of leaden sky, nor harmonize with the gray frame houses and black telephone poles around it. Rather, it foists itself on the eye of the passerby in a manner that is both irritating and melancholy. Visitors who drive to this tiny town wonder why it has not been torn down, while pedestrians, who are residents of the neighborhood, simply look away when they pass it.
Since Morrison is telling a story, she can take the time to describe a scene or setting in the novel. She uses descriptive details like colors (black, gray) and emotions (melancholy, irritating) to create vivid imagery for the reader to imagine and become part of the setting. In comparison, Kozol does not describe in detail what East St. Louis looks like, because that is not his purpose; since he is trying to inform us of a problem affecting the children of the city, too much description and imagery about the city would distract the reader from the information that Kozol wants us to attain.
Audience & Purpose
The audience is comprised of readers and the purpose is what you are trying to accomplish as a writer. Just like my fashion style changes depending on my audience or purpose for the day, so does my writing style. If I have a business meeting, I am not going to show up in flip flops and jeans, because my audience is comprised of professionals and my purpose is to be taken seriously. Likewise, if I am writing an expository or persuasive piece of writing, I want my audience to take me seriously as a writer and believe my facts and details, because my purpose is to inform or to convince them. Therefore, my style has to be concise, clear and straight to the point. I do not need descriptive, flowery language to distract my reader from my purpose, which is to inform.
On the flip side, if I am trying to describe the main setting in my short story, I don't want to start spouting facts and statistics about the changes that have occurred in the town's population and weather patterns over the last decade, because my audience will become confused and probably bored. Unless it is directly related to the characters or main plot in the story, that information will not help my reader imagine my setting, but it will distract from my story. Therefore, the style of a piece of writing is vital in determining the author's main objective as well as what type of writing one is trying to accomplish.
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