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 What is Writing Style exactly? Would I Need a Writing Style Guide?

writing styles, writing guide, writing tips

The primary purpose of writing is to connect with your readers. Writing style then has to match the subject or topic. Writing styles come in many varieties. They could be descriptive, analytical or reflective. Which style you choose depends on the readers for whom the writing in intended.


Analytical writing is concise and compact, and is most suited for academic papers, dissertations, textbooks or manuals. The author of a science fiction novel might use descriptive writing in some sections so that he/she can describe a person, place, or thing in a pictorial manner to let the reader  'feel' a part of the world the author is writing about. Most of the writing style is, however, creative.

Reflective writing is usually subjective and individualized, used in journal entries or a personal opinion composition.

A style guide is a way of recording your approach to components of writing that need to be uniform. Guides are typically related to specific types of writing genre such as commercial or business writing, journalism, technical writing, fiction, children's books and web page copy.

For each of these, the writing style has to be consistent, and so writing guides are issued to allow different authors to contribute, while verifying that the finished article reflects the preferred style of  the publication, company or website associated with the writing, and not the personal style of the writer.

For publishers or institutions with a large number of contributing authors, a style guide is a must for the finished publication to be concordant and consistent.

There will always be a certain measure of polemic on rudiments of style due to the absence of a standard on writing styles. While the rules of punctuation and correct grammar is well laid down and definite, style is much more than just the correct usage of punctuation, grammar and vocabulary. The style for children's books is obviously vastly different from that for a science journal. Style is also very subjective and elements of style are subject to the readers' interpretations.

Style can cover many different facets:

  • spelling (UK v/s US)
  • voice orientations (active v/s passive)
  • sentence structure
  • using headings
  • the role of lists
  • preferred sentence lengths
  • indentation and numbering paragraphs
  • manuscript presentation and layout
  • font selection
  • extent of discourse of a subject
  • readership weighing
  • use of abbreviations
  • recognized terminology
  • the inclusion of symbols

Originative writers may not be concerned about most of these details, but a report writer or a technical writer may need to observe the boundaries of style in their daily work.

A style guide is an invaluable tool for any writer, but especially for freelance writers. Freelance writers need to repeatedly formulate style guides for each customer or publisher they work with. It is important for freelance writers to demonstrate competence in following a decreed style.

For further reading and more in-depth study on writing styles, Strunk's 'The Elements of Style' is a good read. Download the BBC News style guide for an excellent guide from one of the world's most respected organization.

The Economist style guide is freely on tap on their website and specifies style and submission directions for contributors to follow. The Chicago Manual of Style has a topnotch website that you can subscribe to.

Many creative writers shun the need for a style guide. They subscribe to the notion that the ability to follow a standard writing style should be a natural quality for any writer. Whether or not this is true, a style guide does provide a way to document basic rules or features of writing that will ensure consistency.

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