What Is Your Writing Style?
"A man's style in any art should be like his dress—it should attract as little attention as possible." - Samuel Butler
So you are a writer. You know you are a writer, because you are driven to put your thoughts into words to share with others, you love to organize words, and you are either thinking about writing, or you are already writing articles and publishing them. You might be writing articles, poetry, product reviews, commentaries, blogs, or even publishing your own books. You already know about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and all the other things you need to know to write something presentable.
But what style of a writer are you? Though you are already writing, you may not know what your writing style is. How can you determine this?
There are many different trains of academic thought on writing styles, since there is no one standard accepted authority on style for the English language. But deciding the writing style that's right for you can be found by determining who your audience will be, your own personal style of communicating, and where your writing will be published.
In considering what style of writing you should be using, you should also think about what you want to achieve with your writing. Do you want to share your experiences, entertain by telling a story, teach someone a new skill or impart knowledge, or persuade others to change their thinking or perform a specific action?
The three fundamental writing styles are:
Narrative: Writing that tells about a personal or fictional experience, or tells a story based on a real or imaginary event.
Expository: Writing that is designed to convey information or explain something difficult to understand.
Persuasive: Writing that has as its purpose an attempt to convince the reader to accept a particular point of view or to take some specific action.
Writing styles can be narrowed down even further, by determining several factors, which include:
1. AUDIENCE - Actual or intended. Who will be reading what you write? Will it be a general audience, or will your readers be technical, academic, scientific, legal, or medical peers? Writing for a selected audience type will require using a preferred style type for that specific audience. Style guides for the general public would include those of "Fowler's Modern English Usage", with guidelines for language usage, punctuation, and grammar, or "The Chicago Manual of Style", a guide for style preferred by publishers of books and journals.
2. VEHICLE - The medium through which you publish your writing determines which writing style you should use, according to accepted or preferred style guides for a specific publication or organization, or for a particular audience or academic discipline. Some of these specific publication styles could be medicine, journalism, law, government, business, or industry. Publishers' style guides may have unique rules for language use, and may differ in rules regarding document formatting, citations and bibliography styles, graphical design, punctuation, etc. In the United States, most non-journalistic writing follows the "Chicago Manual of Style", while most newspapers base their style on the "Associated Press Stylebook". A classic style guide for the general public is "The Elements of Style", by Strunk and White.
3. PERSONAL STYLE - What is your personal style?
Determining your personal writing style will make it much easier to zero in on your own personal strengths, take better advantage of your talent, and increase the impact of your writing. Knowing and perfecting your own personal writing style can help you attain greater success as a writer.
If you try to "follow the crowd", or "write for the money", you may be fighting your own natural style, and consequently, setting yourself up for failure. If you are attempting to write the way others do, to duplicate their success, you may find that you are unable to emulate it, simply because you have a different style of writing than they do.
For example, if you are an "Emotional Expressive" writer, you will find it almost impossible to be a "Commentator". A person who writes on impulse with a burst of emotion, almost always writes about how they feel, and thus, their writing will be slanted to describe how they personally view a topic. On the other hand, a "Commentator" will write about the same topic, but in an unbiased manner, showing the facts, and then comparing alternate views, without committing to a personal opinion or viewpoint.
A person who loves to create artistically crafted poetry or prose will find it impossible to write for the search engines, using long-tail phrases, and keyword optimized content designed to pull in traffic and make money, because it would ruin their carefully created "word design".
How many "personal styles" of writing are there? That's a really good question. There may be as many writing styles as there are writers! All of us approach our writing differently.
But there are several basic "personal styles" that cover most of us. (Or at least, these are the ones I came up with...)
Here they are:
Personal Writing Styles -
"Poetic Craftsman" - This is the writer who likes to convey thoughts, dreams, feelings, observations, or emotions, in a carefully crafted and structured form of writing such as prose or poetry. This person will probably spend painstaking hours or even days revising, re-ordering, and rewriting their work, until it is perfect. To this writer, writing is a highly-skilled art. They love to arrange and rearrange words, and play with metaphors, rhythm, and sentence and word structure.
"Unbiased Commentator" - This kind of writing could include journalism, news reporting, reviews, legal, scientific, or technical writing. This kind of writing requires smaller words and shorter sentences, is intended to be easily understood by a general audience, and should be fact-based, and free of personal opinions, slang, bias, or emotionality. This writer does their homework, gathering information with organized and pertinent research, cites resources, and writes concisely and efficiently.
"Emotional Expressive" - This personality tends to write as a "knee-jerk" response to an event or topic that causes an emotional reaction. They use their writing as a vehicle to release excess emotion, tension, fear, grief, or anger, and find it difficult to remain objective about their subject matter. Their writing is generally manifested as a personal opinion, and they tend to use the word "I" often. This kind of writing is good for editorials, or for writing reviews or opinions for peers. At times this writer may provoke controversial or antagonistic responses in readers who do not agree with the opinions expressed. (In fact, sometimes this is the intention!) This writer may also be looking for affirmation or commiseration from readers.
"The Activist" - This writer wants to persuade you, and invoke a reaction and an action with their writing. (Persuasive writing) Usually they present a problem, cause you to react, and end up by telling you what you can do about it. For example, a) Puppy mills are horrible places and should be shut down b) They then show you cases and pictures of mistreated dogs that will horrify you and make you angry or disgusted, and then c) Tell you where to go to sign a petition to stop this travesty.
"The Storyteller" - This personal style is writing that is designed to entertain the reader. (Narrative writing) It can be fictional or non-fictional. It can be historical, humoristic, biographical, fantasy, personal, third person, or metaphorical. But it is always a story that will be complete with descriptions of people and personalities, places, events, etc. This writer wants to share experiences, emotions, feelings, and make you feel like you are there as an observer.
"SEO Marketer" - This writer is in it for the money, plain and simple. He or she will do the keyword research to find what's getting the most traffic, then use those keywords in their title and content, submit their articles to directories, and backlink their articles to get the highest amount of traffic possible, in order to earn money from their Google Adsense and/or affiliate links.
"Teacher" - This is non-fiction, how-to writing. (Expository writing) This writer is knowledgeable about a certain subject, or knows a skill that he/she wants to describe or teach about. Most academic, technical, legal, or medical essays fall into this category. These writers enjoy writing about what they are experts at, and love to research new or informative things that they can teach their readers about.
"Flibberty-Gibbet" - This person never knows what they are going to write about. They have no idea what their writing style is, and they are not aware they should have one. They don't research, don't do SEO optimization, and have no particular audience in mind. They may write haphazardly, straying off-topic, and use several different writing styles all in the same piece of work. They tend to write "off-the-cuff", with no particular objective in mind, and are unorganized. Their articles may include several different subject matters that are unrelated, and if you start reading something they have written, you never know where you will end up. This is the kind of writer you don't want to be!
In summary, to use personal writing style to empower your writing:
Take a moment to decide what you want to achieve with your writing,
Know who your audience will be,
Remember your personal writing style, and
Consider where you will be publishing your writing.
Which one are YOU?
What is your personal writing style?
Some Common Style Guides for Writing:
For General Writing:
The Chicago Manual of Style - By University of Chicago staff, required by some academic publishers for books and journal publications. Check out The Chicago Manual of Style Online at: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org.
The Elements of Style - By William Strunk Jr, and E.B. White (Strunk & White)
Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd Edition - Outlines guidelines for language usage, phrases, punctuation, and grammar.
For Legal Documents:
The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. Jointly, by the Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, Columbia Law Review, and Penn Law Review.
ALWD Citation Manual, by the Association of Legal Writing Directors
For Academic Papers:
A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Seventh Edition: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, by Kate L. Turabian. Often referred to as "Turabian."
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. By Joseph Gibaldi (Often referred to as "MLA.")
The Associated Press Stylebook. By the Associated Press (AP).
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. By Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly.
For Electronic Publishing:
The Columbia Guide to Online Style, by Janice Walker and Todd Taylor.
Academic Style Guides:
A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (frequently called "Turabian style") By Kate L. Turabian, graduate school dissertation secretary at the University of Chicago from 1930 to 1958. Her stylistic rules closely follow those in the Chicago Manual of Style, although there are some differences.
American Medical Association Manual of Style - For medical papers published in journals of the American Medical Association.
IEEE Style - Used in many technical research papers, especially those relating to computer science.
"Style Manuals and Writing Guides" - This excellent resource offers a list of dozens of Style Manuals and links to access them online. From the California State University, Los Angeles Library.
Wikipedia's Guide to Writing Better Articles
What is a Style Guide and Why Would I Need One? - By the University of Memphis LIbraries.