There are many different styles of writing. However, what is style in writing, anyways? A writer’s style comprises voice, tone, pacing, usage of technical aspects of writing (like punctuation), and word choice. With all of these elements combined, it creates a writer’s style. Also, we have to consider varying genres, and schools of writing in each genre. That is why Jack Kerouac, for instance, is said to be a Beat writer and poet—and not simply a writer from the 1950s. In this article, however, we will be discussing writing styles in English, and not other literary styles from other languages.
Voice in writing is difficult to describe, as it is complex. Sometimes writers compose their works in the voice they speak, and other times they adopt a voice to portray or express something in mind and/or heart. It is abstract, but if a writer has a distinct voice, they can be easily recognized on the page. Back to the example of Kerouac, his writing voice was so unique that it was instantly obvious that it was his writing as soon as you read it. Voice is essentially the manner in which words are written and how ideas are expressed. By a writer’s voice, you can assume many things about them: their age, personality, likes and dislikes, country of origin, country of residence, and more.
However, as I stated earlier, a writer’s voice can adopt a myriad characteristics in order to portray a certain character or feeling. Say a writer is writing a story from the point of view of a pastor from the 17th century. That character’s voice will be much different than a teenager from the modern era. So, writers should be experts in changing one’s voice based on context. This also goes for the voice used in business writing, scholarly writing, creative writing, pedagogical writing, etc. Across these different types of writing, one needs to change one’s voice to meet the demands and requirements. For example, you cannot write a poem like you are writing a business article. You need to understand the voice required for each type of writing you are working on.
According to Writers Write, “Tone is conveyed through diction (choice and use of words and phrases), viewpoint, syntax (grammar; how you put words and phrases together), and level of formality. It is the way you express yourself in speech or writing” (Writers Write). Sometimes it is confused with voice, but tone is your attitude, and your writing voice is your personality. In this sense, tone is more specific, whereas voice is more general.
One example of tone is in terms of genres. If you are writing a business article, you will use formal language with businessy phrasing, which includes excluding articles and prepositions sometimes. This gets across to your readers that you mean business—if you can take a pun. However, if you are writing an opinion piece for a newspaper, you will have informal tonal elements such as slang, contractions, and idioms. These elements of writing would not suit business writing, but it does correspond to opinion pieces.
Sometimes, the tone you use guarantees respect from readers. As a scholar composing in the academic writing style, if you write with an informal tone, your work will likely be brushed aside as amatuer writing, no matter how significant the content is. In order to receive respect from readers, you need to respect the tone that is connected to certain genres. You don’t always have to do what’s expected, but you should be aware that a certain tone of writing is commonly seen with specific types of writing.
Though pacing is commonly referred to in fiction writing, it is also used in nonfiction writing. It has to do with sentence variety, which is based on sentence length. Shorter sentences convey rushing to the reader, and longer sentences express a relaxed pace. In between, you have middle-sized sentences that show a sense of normalcy. Understanding these types of sentences can be tools to make readers feel a certain way while they read your writing. It is also an expression of the content. If you are writing in an excited voice, you will have shorter sentences, whereas if your writing voice is leisurely, you will use longer sentences.
However, it is key that not all the sentences of a text are the same length. Sentence variety is paramount, as readers can easily tire from the use of a certain sentence length faster than you might think. It is best to adapt sentence length according to your voice, content, and requirements.
In terms of fiction writing, Writer’s Digest has this to say: “Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the events. It refers to how fast or slow events in a piece unfold and how much time elapses in a scene or story. Pacing can also be used to show characters aging and the effects of time on story events” (WritersDigest.com). Pacing in fiction is so essential in a story, that without writers understanding its use properly, most novels and short stories would go unread.
Usage of Technical Aspects of Writing
Common readers usually don’t consider punctuation as something attached to style, but when you read poets like Emily Dickinson, you will easily see how punctuation affects style. How we use commas, dashes, semicolons, and more contribute to style. For instance, when people use many commas, it slows down reading, and readers must take in phrases with more deliberation. Also, with those writers who use dashes often, you can see that they enjoy including many parenthetical statements or surprises. Likewise, those who use semicolons more often than others aim for a more complex style and longer sentences to express as much as possible within a single sentence.
But punctuation is not the only technical aspect that influences writing style. Things such as spelling (US, UK, Canada), formatting (MLA, APA, and so on), use of italics, use of bolding, use of underlining, and more, also affect one’s writing style. From a writer’s spelling, you can determine where he or she lives, and from that context, you can gather information about the writer. When you notice the use of formatting, you can tell which kind of audience and discipline they are writing for. In the case of italics, many writers like to delineate between written works with them, and also cases where you note, “so to say.” Bolding is used primarily for online articles, where keywords and phrases are highlighted so that readers can easily gather information from texts; however, bolding can be used in various other types of writing in order to add emphasis. Underlining is similar to bolding, though it is commonly employed for section headings. If people use underlining too much in a text, the writing might be considered tacky.
Word choice is so important in terms of writing style, that it might be the most significant factor that determines one’s writing style. Just by changing a few words, or even one word, in a sentence, the tone, voice, and overall style can change. For example, if we are writing an academic essay, and we use the word “big” instead of “large,” the tone and voice has already changed. In writing, word choice is formally called diction, and according to Aims Community College, “A simple yet powerful way to establish writing as important, skilled, and unique is through word choice. Writers who use specific, vibrant words in their writing achieve a number of goals, from engaging the reader to enlivening the content of their subject matter” (“Online Writing Lab”). Word choice conveys your message appropriately, along with your voice and tone.
For each piece of writing you are working on, you should be familiar with requirements in terms of word choice: can you use formal or informal language, or both? Also, considering your message and audience, what kinds of words would you include and exclude? These questions will aid you in understanding what word choice is appropriate for specific types of writing.
Finding the best word for a context and expression is what makes a decent writer become a great writer. Average writers will use words that are commonly used in most situations, even though they are not the most accurate. When writing, and especially editing, consider each word you use and if it correctly conveys what you want to say. You will be surprised how many inaccuracies there are in word choice. Word choice can be subtle, as each synonym has a different shade of meaning and context.
- “155 Words To Describe An Author’s Tone.” Writers Write, 24 Jan. 2018, writerswrite.co.za/155-words-to-describe-an-authors-tone/.
- “Master Pacing in Fiction & Take Your Story From Boring to Exciting.” WritersDigest.com, 25 Apr. 2012, www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/7-tools-for-pacing-a-novel-keeping-your-story-moving-at-the-right-pace.
- “Online Writing Lab.” Tools for Writing: Improving Word Choice – Aims Community College, www.aims.edu/student/online-writing-lab/tools/improving-word-choice.php.