Learning to develop your own writing style is the approach you use to reveal your personality or the voice you wish to project to the reader. It is the result of preferences in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and general ideas about the world. It should be evident throughout the entire document. Some general principles apply and are listed below, but individual choices can override these rules.
While it is true that certain occupations impose style restrictions, those constraints can intermingle given different circumstances. A writer can combine personal style with the style expected as long as it is not done to excess so as to distract from the document’s primary purpose. A scientific paper with excessive personal style may make the reader question its seriousness; a news article with excessive personal style may make the reader doubt the author’s neutrality. Fiction written in the customary style of a scientific paper would not keep the reader interested.
Knowing who will be reading your creation will help in defining your style. This knowledge shapes the differences in occupational style noted above but also constrains style within an occupation or setting. The author needs to answer the following questions regarding the audience:
What is the reader’s ability level? Using excessively complex language for children or for the general public will hinder communication, but using excessively simple language for a knowledgeable audience will seem condescending.
What do readers know? Spending time explaining things readers already know will make them lose interest. In this case the writer should write in a manner that assumes the audience is knowledgeable to a certain degree on the given subject.
Situation and Purpose
Deciding whether the goal of the writing is to inform, persuade, or entertain will help to tailor your style to the situation. In writing a letter, you would use a different style depending on whether it is a letter of complaint, a letter of condolence, or a business letter.
Developing your personal style helps you control not only the extent of prose but also its delivery. Within the rules of grammar, you can arrange words in many ways. A sentence may state the main proposition first and then modify it; or it may contain language to prepare the reader before stating the main proposition. Outside the rules of grammar, you are free to explore many different styles.
Varying the style adds interest for the reader.
The Common Sentence
The most common sentence in modern usage begins with the main point (an independent clause), followed by one or more subordinate clauses.
The Periodic Sentence
In contrast, a periodic sentence places the main point in the middle or at the end of the sentence.
To make this strong, it is necessary to be as concise as is consistent with clearness, but also to arrange words, phrases, and clauses in the order which gives a commanding position to what is most important; and thus fixes the attention on the central idea.
The Balanced Sentence
A balanced sentence is characterized by parallel structure, two or more parts of the sentence have the same form, emphasizing similarities or differences.
Forms of Style
Diction also pertains to the writer’s style depending on the form taken in the writing. Argumentative and expository prose on a particular topic frequently makes use of a set of terminology in which the subject matter is discussed with common language. By contrast, narrative and descriptive prose is open to the vast variety of words.
This undertone of a word refers to the special associations, apart from its dictionary definition, that it may convey. Connotation especially depends on the audience. The writer should choose the connotation (positive, negative, or neutral) that supports the mood.
Some figures of speech are phrases that are used so frequently that they have lost their novelty, sincerity, and perhaps even their meaning. They are referred to as clichés. Whether a given expression has fallen into this category is a matter of opinion.
Writing is a highly individualized occupation. Choices abound in areas of personal interest. Unusual and distinctive styles will add spice to the reader’s experience. If your particular style generates comments, then you will know that you have succeeded in opening up people’s minds to alternative ideas.