Circumvent information silos—the tendency of some people to limit their access to information to a handful of websites or media sources—by publishing your message in multiple media and genres. Plus, remediating (or remixing) texts can turbocharge your creative potential. To learn more about remediation as an invention strategy, see "Text-to-Text Remediation" and "Text-to-Visual Remediation."
Voice, sentence structure, point of view, description, grammar—knowledge of these stylistic issues can enable you to craft your messages so they are artful, creative, and persuasive. Understand the effects of different syntactical patterns on readability and persuasiveness.
“Style is a difference, a way of doing, a way of being done” – Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski had writing style. I remember realizing how different writing style can be when I was a junior in college. For fun, I was reading Bukowski because I felt he wrote raw, dirty, gritty prose—it felt real to me. At the same time I was taking a class on Sylvia Plath, and the two styles couldn’t be more different. Bukowski wrote poems in a conversational tone while Plath wrote poems that rhymed; Bukowski wrote about bars, drinking, gambling, and women while Plath wrote about bees, her father and mother, and about cutting her finger.
Although characterized as a "local concern," style is an incredibly important aspect of writing. In this section, you will learn how to craft engaging, dynamic prose and how to best communicate your information and purpose as a writer. For a brief introduction to this topic, see Style: An Introduction.
Learn how to negotiate between formal academic writing and conversational prose by maintaining an academic tone while staying true to your own voice in Making Sure Your Voice is Present.
Why is it important to rephrase awkward word order?
Since the goal of academic writing is to communicate with clarity, writers should build sentences with words and phrases that flow smoothly. Words that are missing, misplaced, or out of order can make the writing sound disjointed or send an unintended message. Reread each sentence carefully or read the paper aloud to check for awkward wording.
How can short sentences be effectively combined?
A primer-style sentence is a short and simple sentence that usually includes a single subject and verb. While short and simplistic sentences can be used effectively to emphasize a point or clarify a confusing statement, frequent use of them can make a paper sound choppy and interrupt the flow of the paper. Primer-style sentences can be combined into a more complex sentence.
What is parallel structure?
Parallel structure is established when words within a sentence are united by consistent use of grammatical forms. This stylistic element is also referred to as parallelism or parallel construction.
Why is it important to use parallel structure?
Lack of parallel structure can disrupt the rhythm of a sentence, leaving it grammatically unbalanced. Proper parallel structure helps to establish balance and flow in a well-constructed sentence; the alignment of related ideas supports readability and clarity.
Why is it important to vary sentence structure?
Too many simple and compound sentences can make writing sound choppy, but too many complex and compound-complex sentences can make writing difficult to follow. Strive for a balance by combining sentences of various structures and lengths throughout your paper.
What is a sentence fragment?
A sentence fragment is a word, phrase, or dependent clause that is punctuated as a sentence, but the subject, verb, or both may be missing. Though sentence fragments may be used for effect in certain types of writing, fragments are generally not used in academic or professional writing.
What is a run-on sentence?
A run-on (or fused) sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that have been joined without appropriate punctuation or coordinating words. Dividing a run-on sentence into concise, meaningful units can help to clarify your message.
How might this run-on sentence be divided?
- Locate the fused independent clauses; it may help to underline the subject-verb pairs.
- Draw a vertical line (or lines) on your paper to separate the independent clauses.
Experiment with these strategies to use your editing time more productively.
Once you believe a draft conveys the basic information you want your readers to understand, you can begin attacking it at the sentence level. After working hard to develop the substance of a message, you may be weary of it and eager to turn it over to your instructor. If possible, set the draft aside and work on another assignment before trying to edit it.
Explore the effects of different sentence patterns on reading comprehension.
When assessing whether your sentences are too long or complex, consider your audience: Educated readers have a greater tolerance for longer sentences. Younger and less experienced writers prefer shorter sentences. When writing for an international audience or addressing a very complex topic, sentences may need to be shorter.
The Terror of Voice
I like order. I love the comfort of a beautiful and functional Excel spreadsheet. I organize my CDs by genre and then alphabetically by artist. I eat three meals a day.
But my love of order sometimes butts heads with my love of writing. That’s because no matter how much attention I pay to following the rules of writing, I know that to produce writing that astounds readers—moving them, making them gasp, enticing them—I’ll have to include more than just correct writing.
Why is it important to use the active voice?*
When writers use the active voice, their words are direct; they use concrete verbs and clearly state the action being performed by the subject. In contrast, the passive voice is indirect; writers may use weak “to be” verbs (is, am, was, were, being, been) or present progressives (e. g., is working, is laughing), and the actor in the sentence is absent or disguised.
Identify when the active voice is preferable to the passive voice.
In general, you can make your writing more persuasive, clear, and concise by using the active voice rather than the passive voice. There are instances, however, when the passive voice is preferable to the active voice, as discussed below.
Enhance the likelihood that readers will respond favorably to your document by projecting an effective voice, tone, and persona.Voice, Tone, and Persona are slippery terms/concepts. In some instances, these terms can be used interchangeably, yet important differences do exist.
The term voice may be used to define a writer's stance toward his subject or readers.
Why should tone and voice be considered?
Writers should consider the audience and purpose of each assignment and be cognizant of the tone and voice they use to communicate with their readers. Sensitivity to the audience’s stance on a particular topic will affect their perception of the writer as the argument unfolds; a respectful tone is more likely to reach the audience than one that is condescending.
Why is it important to conclude a paragraph with the writer’s voice rather than a quote or paraphrase?
Although quotations or paraphrased material from reliable sources are often used to add credibility and to support a writer’s ideas, the focus of the paper should remain on the writer’s voice and his or her own agency as a writer.
Credible evidence should be provided to support the points a writer makes, but source material should not overshadow the writer’s voice.
Why is it important to conclude a paragraph with the writer’s voice rather than a quote?*
Though quotations from reliable sources are often used to add credibility and support to a writer’s ideas, the focus of the paper should remain on the writer’s voice and his or her own agency as a writer. Credentialed evidence should be provided to support the points a writer makes, but not at the expense of diluting the writer’s voice with overdependence on quotations.
Writers must determine which point of view they want to use in a particular piece of writing. They can choose between first person ("I," "we"), second person ("you"), and third person ("one," "he," "she," "they"). Sometimes the point of view will shift in a piece of writing, but most of the time writers must stay consistent, using one point of view throughout their text. So how do writers know which point of view to use? Read the articles below to find out.
Although there are occasions when a shift in point of view is appropriate, unnecessary and inconsistent shifts—especially within a sentence—are distracting to the reader and can cause a confusing change in perspective.
How can you correct an unnecessary shift in point of view?
- In a passage where an unnecessary shift has been noted, go through and highlight each of the point of view words.
- Change the point of view of the inconsistent pronouns to align them with the primary point of view that has already been established.
The first person—“I,” “me,” “my,” etc.—can be a useful and stylish choice in academic writing, but inexperienced writers need to take care when using it.
There are some genres and assignments for which the first person is natural. For example, personal narratives require frequent use of the first person (see, for example, "Employing Narrative in an Essay). Profiles, or brief and entertaining looks at prominent people and events, frequently employ the first person. Reviews, such as for movies or restaurants, often utilize the first person as well. Any writing genre that involves the writer’s taste, recollections, or feelings can potentially utilize the first person.
Understand when the first person is preferable to second or third person.
"Do not use the first person" is perhaps the most unfortunate writing myth that handicaps inexperienced writers. After all, how can we think without using our experience? Why must we drive a stake through our cerebral cortex before writing? Can we logically assume that we are more objective thinkers when we avoid the first person?