Knowing what you want to say can have a lot to do with how you say it and write with style. And vice versa.
Many beginning writers might be thinking, “If I can get one word to follow another and make sense, I’m accomplishing a lot. I can’t handle the idea of style.”
The truth, however, is that you’re writing with style whether you know it or not. What we read influences all of us. People used to reading short, informative pieces, such as those in blog posts, will be influenced by a style that generally uses short words and not a lot of them. Writers of magazine articles use a more leisurely style, often with longer paragraphs and sentences.
Below are four basic styles of writing. They serve different purposes.
Its basic purpose is to give information and/or to explain a subject or issue. It doesn’t give opinions. You’ll see this kind of writing in a textbook. A science textbook is a good example. A book that describes different species of animals doesn’t offer an opinion about whether a raccoon is better than a deer. It describes both species without prejudice.
A how-to book is another example. A book that tells you how to weatherize your home will probably compare different types of insulation, describing the merits and drawbacks of different kinds. It will not tell you that you should have solar panels because of the global energy crisis.
This kind of writing is full of opinions and attempts to influence those who read it. The author will most likely include facts in his/her prose but will use them to turn the opinion of the reader towards agreement.
A book on weatherizing one’s home might lean heavily on the importance of freeing oneself from coal, oil, and other fossil fuels. It would probably be light on practical information.
A book on reforming nursing homes would also have many facts in it: about nursing home deaths, statistics perhaps on low interaction between residents and personnel, lack of stimulating activities, and other deficiencies the author wishes to address. She would organize these facts in the service of her argument that reform is overdue.
This writing tells a story. It can be either fiction or non-fiction. A memoir or autobiography is narrative writing.
Any piece of writing can contain narrative elements. Writing focused on persuasion can use stories in that service. A story will often have an emotional effect that has more power than pages of statistics.
The book about weatherization that attempts to persuade could contain stories of how people’s lives improved when they got rid of their oil-burning furnace. An asthmatic child found it easier to breathe, which improved the quality of his family’s entire life.
A book devoted to nursing home reform might tell the tragic stories of some residents. It could contrast these with happy tales of seniors whose lives were improved with greater cultural stimulation.
This is a form of expository writing that uses the senses to create a multidimensional portrait for the reader. It will have specific details and imagery. It doesn’t inherently express opinions, although it may.
For example, a description of a peaceful walk in the wood or aspens in the fall may be a meditative piece, full of words and phrases that awaken the senses.
Descriptive writing can also be used in the service of other forms of writing. It can be part of a story. Most stories would be dry without description. It can also be used in the service of persuasion.
The weatherization book might describe the visual effects of strip mining in Appalachia. The nursing home reform book could describe the weary faces of residents.
You can see that you don’t have to limit yourself to one style. You write with style regardless of the kidn of writing you’re creating.
Mixing exposition and persuasion will cause problems. The reader, unsure whether you are objectively present facts or trying to persuade them, will likely get annoyed and put down your book.
Stories go well with both expository and persuasive text.
Description belongs in stories and persuasive text. Traditionally, it has not featured strongly in exposition—although, in my opinion, some of the dry textbooks I had to read as a student would have benefitted from some sensory input.
Know whether you’re trying to convince your reading audience or to merely present a series of facts. How much description do you want? Would a story enliven your writing?
The key element is to use these styles as purposely as you would mix ingredients to make a dish. Balance these ingredients well, and you can serve your readers an appetizing meal.
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Pat Iyer is an editor, author, book coach and ghostwriter. She helps individuals create books that encourages their expertise to shine and advances their businesses. She has written or edited 48 of her own books.