Another Look at Writing Styles

<strong>Writing Styles and Stylish Writingstrong>

by Richard Green

Writing styles vary wildly across time, place, and context. The phrase “writing style” can refer to entirely distinct meanings of style. For Wikipedia, “writing style” is semi-correctly defined as “the manner of expressing thought in language characteristic of an individual, period, school,” which is, at least, less incorrect than thinking style refers to one or more of the rhetorical modes, including narration, description, argument and exposition. Yet another definition of writing style refers to the actual typeface, or font, used to draw letters.

The more useful and correct definition of writing style is “a style of expressing yourself in writing” and this is the definition of writing styles that concerns us here (

Writing style derives from a combination of elements in the writing and can change and vary according to the writing situation, time of life, or other factors.

Styles of script

The foremost authority on style is William Strunk, and the foremost book on style is The Elements of Style, written originally by Strunk and later revised and expanded by E.B. White. Written and self-published in 1919, The Elements of Style is still the accepted standard among style texts.

Writing styles are like the proverbial three bears because there are high, medium, and low styles. Examples of high style, also known as academic writing, may be found in scientific reports, academic journal publications and literary analysis. The vocabulary in high style writing is challenging, the organizational pattern complex, and the topics esoteric.

High style writing is found mostly in academic and trade publications because the inherent intricacy of high style writing makes it difficult for some readers. Often, the necessity of using jargon delimits the size of the audience in high style writing. However, the very novels you love right now are written using every style.

Fiction writers may use low style for dialog to portray place, education, or ethnicity in what is otherwise a story told in a high style. Lastly, don’t forget that good writing is altogether a different thing than high style writing, with good writing frequently containing humor and clarity.

Midway between too much and too little is medium style, which is best exemplified by the writing in government publications and technical directions.  Medium style writing is not required to be complicated nor interesting and in most schema, isn’t even mentioned because it is easier to explain the other two styles and then add that medium style falls somewhere in between high and low.  More accurately, medium style describes good, correct, concise writing that avoids the extremes in vocabulary, length, and topic involvement that characterize high style writing.

Medium style is the sweet spot for technical, business, and other professional publications writing because it combines the correctness of high style with the greater readability and flow of low style. To read an example of medium style, pick up any government publication. We use medium style writing to make what we write more readable.

Low style writing is lesser writing in readily recognizable ways: correctness, vocabulary, length, topic, and structure. Low style writing is street speech, and when read aloud often has cadence and sound of the speech of the people in the region it comes from.  Regionalism, or sense of place, is a feature of vernacular and gives it a sense of movement and growth.  Low style writing and speech is full of lively innovation in the form of slang and is quick to include new words and new uses for existing words.

Although sometimes it certainly is bad writing, it can be put to good use creatively. Eventually the best neologisms in low style begin their journey into our lexicon to become part of the mainstream until finally they are indistinguishable from words and phrases with a more pedigreed pompatus.

Examples of low style are found in the common or colloquial speech, some modern and postmodern novels, and movies.  Low style refers to writing or speaking that isn’t too correct, doesn’t use big words or phrases, has generally superficial topic coverage, unidentifiable or loose structure.  It is anything goes writing and speaking, and although we don’t normally use it in formal writing, it occupies an influential place in language development and self-expression.


The definition of proper style also varies according to the type of publication. Journalistic publications such as newspapers use both a set of style rules, Associated Press (AP) style and then each newspaper may have its own smaller set of style rules specific only to that publication, and all of these rules are unlike those used by slick magazines such as People or National Geographic.

Generally, the more frequent the publication the more responsive and changeable are the rules. Most variations in style are small, like the number of spaces after a colon, which many magazines reduced to one from the formerly accepted two spaces. Within academics, each field has its own set of rules: in English and literature, the Modern Language Association (MLA) makes the rules; in psychology, The American Psychological Association (APA) makes the publication rules that all psychologists must conform to in their professional writing.  The list goes on.  Suffice to say that before writing for any purpose, familiarity with the style used in that area is imperative.

Fortunately, all of the various conventions of style are similar and many, many style guides are available. Obviously, getting the style just right requires reference sources, and trying to wing it without a style guide most probably will lead to pronounced frustration.


The definition of a creative writer’s style is still “a style of expressing yourself in writing”, and is still based largely on the same factors: organizational pattern; vocabulary; topic; and level of correctness.  However, the most distinctive creative writing styles may contain additional features such as speech tag use in dialog, repeating motifs, or mini themes, sub textual elements, and continuity in mood or tone over several works.

Remember that the mood of a piece of writing is the overall impression it conveys while the tone of a piece is the writer’s reaction of the mood.  Hence, an office may be described as efficient (mood) but perhaps the writer hates efficiency (tone). These features of individual style may cumulatively create what can be identified as the writer’s style.

When composition students are asked to imitate a writer’s style, most of them can do so even though they may be unaware of these style features.  Thus although style is often subtle and sometimes difficult to explain, it is still easily recognized at some level.  For further thinking, read anything by Kurt Vonnegut or Mark Twain and then try to write a passage imitating the style in the passage read. That ephemeral something that we find we can imitate is the writer’s style and the writer’s voice is what the writer has to say combined with how the writer expresses it.


A Writer’s Reference is valuable because it covers most styles in current use such as MLA, APA, CSE, AMA, and CM.

Clarity, meaning clearness in thought and style, is the most important part of style.  A poorly written piece is probably also an unclear piece of writing. The causes of unclear style are the features of style run a muck: messy essay and paragraph structure, in other words the writer doesn’t place the ideas in a logical order; incorrect sentence structure, such as faulty pronoun references, changes in tense, lack of transitions such as shifting in and out of tenses until the reader is confused; uncertain or ill-conceived thesis, so that the reader never gets that road map to guide him or her through the essay; inadequate development of the topic so that the essay seems to go everywhere but to a logical conclusion.

This list of areas should be viewed as opportunities for improvement rather than a shopping list of mistakes.  The point of writing has always been to express ideas, so examples of incorrectness or less than correctness need not be experienced as errors because that perception does nothing to improve a writer’s ability to express ideas clearly whereas seeing these problems as beacons indicating the way to improvement leads directly to amelioration and is the only sensible approach.

Here is the second best style book.

This text includes readings and exercises.

Some closing thoughts on style from great writers.

“Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can.  That is the only secret of style.”

Matthew Arnold

“Style is the physiognomy of the mind.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”

Oscar Wilde

Thanks for reading!

By Ricardo Verde

Suggested Reading Resources Strunk, William Jr. and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. 3rd ed. NY: Macmillan.

What is a Writing Center, And What Can It Do for Me

A writing center is a college writing help center for student writers. Writing tutors at the writing centers assist student writers with any stage of the writing process for essays, reports, multimedia publications and other types of written publications. Most writing centers also offer online assistance. Use of writing centers is generally limited to enrolled students.

As a proud survivor of two writing center tutoring jobs during college, I feel especially qualified to write about the many free services and other educational opportunities that are waiting for students at the writing centers at their campuses.  Every good college or university in the US has a writing center that is open during most of the daytime with knowledgeable (at least compared to you) tutors and an ample supply of computers for student use.

Another perspective is often helpful in writing.

Students may expect to receive assistance with all stages of the writing process, so writers may come in to discuss an upcoming writing assignment, or they may come in for help with last draft editing issues on a paper they have mostly finished writing.

Since most of the tutors are also students, you will likely find them well-informed about most aspects of campus life as well as aspects of the essay you are writing.  Some of them are good-looking.  Some are friendly.  All of them will help you, and if they can’t, they will know who can.

Your writing center will probably have comfortable chairs and good lighting.  You just may even get a cup of tea or coffee with your tutoring.  But the greatest thing you will certainly get at the writing center is help with your writing assignments.  They will not give you the answers or edit your paper for you since you are at college to learn to do so yourself, but they will render you all assistance possible.

Many writing centers have online help, too, so you should contact your writing center and learn about the help available long before midterms, okay?  All of these services and even more are provided to college students gratis.

So you will have some idea what to expect, here is a training video of a typical tutoring session at the Purdue Writing Lab.

In researching this article, it became obvious that the following writing centers are of interest, so following is a summary of some noted writing centers and their websites. These centers all offer the same type of assistance. Visiting any of them will improve your writing. We have included links to a few writing centers below.

UNC Writing Center: located on campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the UNC Writing Center can also be accessed via the internet. According to its website, “UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center helps students become stronger, more flexible writers,” and offers writing coaching.

NYU Writing Center: is the New York University’s writing center. It now offers a remote writing center for NYU’s Global Students that facilitates interactive writing consultations via Google’s video chat and document sharing functions for all students in the Global network.

USC Writing Center: is the University of Southern California’s writing center. According to its website, the USC Writing Center mission is to “contribute to the development of better writers, not just better products, and to assist with the skills and processes of critical thinking, drafting, and revising that lead to clearly expressed positions, coherent arguments, and persuasive reasoning,” highlighting the preferred interaction between tutor and student.

Baruch Writing Center: offers 25 workshops on academic and professional writing and features peer review groups in addition to library and one-on-one sessions.

Additional Links

Depaul Writing Center

TAMU Writing Center

MSU Writing Center

UNR Writing Center

Certainly, the writing center “temporality,” described as “an interaction between people over time, in which the nature of the interaction is determined not by site but by method,” can be a creative furnace for writers. In the same way Ben Franklin’s free lending library democratized and fueled learning, so now do writing centers help develop better writers. Use it as an adjunct to the library or computer lab. Remember that most of the larger learning institutions have online publications of style manuals and other learning accessories that the writing center staff are certain to know about.


Works Consulted

Boquet, Elizabeth H. “”Our Little Secret”: A History of Writing Centers, Pre- to Post-Open Admissions.” College Composition and Communication (1999): 463-482. Print.

As always, its a pleasure writing for you.


Cousin Kim‘s List of Handbooks

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