Earlier this year I completed a blog series on Writing with Impact and the information focused primarily on the structural processes involved in strong writing. Although structure is a fundamental component of good writing, most people consider it to be only slightly more interesting than leaf lettuce so I thought I’d move on to the next block of lessons in my personal writing curriculum. They deal with Style.
The word “style” stems from the Latin “stilus,” a word originally used to denote a writing implement that was used to scratch messages on wax tablets. Today, the word style might refer to a way of dressing or living and in the context of writing, it denotes a way of writing. The internet is rife with definitions of what “writing style” actually means. And many news organizations maintain their own style guides that set out exactly how language is to be used by reporting staff. Writers are expected to learn their employer’s style conventions and editors are expected to be vigilant in ensuring there are no deviations. The Canadian Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style are two authoritative sources used in North America and there are many others out there as well.
My own favourite style guide is the irresistible “Manual of Style” written by William Strunk Jr. and it’s available on www.bartleby.com, itself a rich miscellany of writing resources.
For the purposes of this series, however, I’m going to differentiate between writing to conform to a specific style and writing with style. We’ve all encountered written documentation that is a chore to read. It might get the point across and it might contain relevant information. But it is clunky and utterly lacking in fluidity; it probably doesn’t make consistent sense and it has no impact. This ultimately reflects poorly on the originating organization; from a reputational perspective, corporate writing must be strong.
It can take years of consistent effort to learn how to write smoothly but as a writer becomes more confident in their writing they inevitably develop their own personal style and a voice that defines them and their work. A writer’s natural inclinations might have to be repressed in order to align with a corporate image and style, but gracefulness can still reign regardless.
In my experience, I’ve found that graceful, stylish writing requires:
- Grammatical accuracy – with full attention paid, for example, to correct tenses, verb conjugation, and spelling.
- Smooth linkages between sentences and paragraphs within the document.
- Lively word choice that brings color, variety, creativity and appropriate pacing to the document.
- Good depth created by the use of analogies, metaphors and appropriate mood (subjunctive, imperative and indicative for you grammar groupies!)
- Strong editing – delete unnecessary words!
I’ll be analysing each one of these areas in future blog posts and providing some techniques for embedding them in primarily non-fiction documents. And if you have any tips of your own to pass along, please share! We’re all on a writing continuum and there is always more to learn!
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