Determining Your Writing Style
Writing style can refer to many things: the pace at which a written story is told, the imagination – or the pragmatism – inspired by a piece of text, the choice of verbs, the preferred narrative point of view or the even the vocabulary range used by a writer. All these combine to make a unique writerly voice, one that can effectively differentiate one writer from another.
Of course, one's choice of writing style depends heavily on what is being written in the first place. There is little room, say, for flourishing prose and mangled metaphors in a laboratory report or electricity-charged opinions in an informative news piece; on the other hand, poetry and fiction can do without stubborn formality and corporate jargon. Indeed, in a lot of ways, the subject matter and the objectives of the composition have to influence the writing style that will be used.
Just as important is the consideration of the intended audience. Who will be reading the piece? What is their general reading level? Knowing and anticipating the characteristics of readers – catering to readers – certainly goes a long way in helping a writer find the most appropriate and most "readable" writing style or voice of a composition. In a press release, therefore, it might do one well to use industry terms and cite industry authorities. In a poem or drama, literary techniques and devices like alliteration, metric patterns, and figures of speech may be utilized. In a political speech, one may use the first-person point of view or even the second-person point of view (with words like "you" and "we") to establish opinion leadership and authority, while pinching the audience's nerves of inspiration. Thinking carefully about who will read or listen to the written work can filter the best options for one's writing style.
Keep in mind that writing style is not about writing for one's self. It is about writing for others – and doing so in a way that doesn't alienate them, that instead draws them in. Even in situations like writing a Dear Diary entry, one might still be writing for another being: a future self (hopefully, a wiser one, too). So, as one determines the writing style of a piece, he or she must always take the audience into account – and continue to do so throughout the entire writing process.
One might argue that style is so subjective – as subjective as the reception of an audience to it. Indeed, what may sound good to friends and family may not sound good to a wider public audience. But since one cannot please everybody, it is best to take the time to research the intended audience from the very start, even before setting down to write.
Here are a few more tips to determine, find, and improve your writing style:
- Say what you mean – and say it concisely. Excessive wordiness, jargon, and redundancies turn off readers, and may cloud the message you are trying to get across.
- Choose a creative title that instantly captures the readers' or listeners' attention, while also providing a good idea of what the piece is all about.
- Read your first draft out loud. This exercise helps you identify – then prune – awkward-sounding words and phrases.
- If in doubt, consult a dictionary or thesaurus. But don't fall to the temptation of using big words just because you think these will make you sound smart.
- If you're not quite experienced enough to be original, don't be afraid to imitate. There are plenty of writers out there by whom one can be positively influenced. Just make sure that it's a good imitation – and that you know the difference between imitation and plagiarism.
Additional Writing Resources
- What's a Good Essay?
- Academic Essays
- Admission Essays
- Scholarship Essays
- Essay Writing: First-Person and Third-Person Points of View
- Elements of a Successful Research Paper
- Removing Redundancy: Writing Clearly and Concisely
- Avoiding Commonly Misused Words
- Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
- Choosing an Effective Essay Topic
- An Overview of Literary Genres
- What Makes Classic Literature Classic?
- APA vs. MLA: What Style Guide Do I Use?