Whether or not you realize it, you have a writing style. It’s like fashion: sometimes you don’t notice it at all (jeans and a t-shirt), and other times you can’t take your eyes away (Fashion Week, or Lady Gaga). Whether you’re trying to make it as an author or churning out dozens of business emails a day, your writing style is your signature way of communicating.
Your writing style is uniquely yours, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so unique that it causes confusion. Writers like Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway have such personalized writing styles that you could spot their writing in a lineup, but let’s just say Woolf’s run-on sentences aren’t going to be a hit in a business memo. To get your point across but also stay true to your own writing style, it’s important to identify your quirks, polish your technique, and be willing to adapt.
Identify Your Writing Style
Are you quirky? Casual? Formal? Are there certain words you use all the time? Are parentheses all over your writing? Do you go for diverse punctuation, or prefer short, choppy sentences?
The components that make up the way you communicate are what make your writing style yours—whether you consider yourself a Writer with a capital W or just have to create text for your job from time to time.
If you’re interested in improving your communication, start paying attention to your habits. Notice what favorite words keep popping up, whether you find yourself going for semicolons or em-dashes, and other specifics.
- Go through old chapters, articles, or emails you’ve written and take notes on recurring traits.
- As you’re writing something new, reread each sentence or paragraph to find your tics.
- Ask a friend or colleague what they’ve noticed about your writing. Sometimes an extra pair of eyes can pick up details we’re used to glazing over.
After you’ve identified what characterizes your writing style, you can work to improve it, or if you’re satisfied, keep on writing with that heightened awareness.
Hone Your Writing Style
Having a personal writing style is good, but a writing style that’s too out-there can get in the way of comprehension. Whether you do journalism, business writing, or fiction, make sure your writing style fits the norm, but is still your style.
For example, if you keep a thesaurus handy, great. Big words can help you be more precise and descriptive. Just make sure they’re not weighing down your writing or causing confusion.
Or, if you find yourself using phrases like “I think” or “I believe,” cut them. In general, writing sounds more confident and assertive without self-references.
Is the passive voice frequently used in your writing? Scratch that: do you use the passive voice in your writing? Active voice is stronger and more direct, and it’s often the better choice.
Curb Your Writing Style
Honing means making your style concise and clear. Curbing it means getting rid of bad habits. In general, you should check your grammar and spelling. (Shameless plug: we happen to know a handy writing tool that does just that!)
Other than that, unfortunately, writing has a lot of no-no’s, and they vary depending on the type of writing you do. Try these articles to get specific:
- Clean up your dirty, wordy writing
- Get rid of filler words
- Avoid these words at work
- Create error-free content marketing
- Be clear and assertive over email
Adapt Your Writing Style
Back to the fashion metaphor. Maybe you have a thing for sweater-vests or mismatched socks, or you wear sweatpants whenever you can get away with it. Fashion is about being yourself, but there are times when you dress a certain way because it’s expected of you. A job interview. A wedding. Prom. You can still be yourself, but you adapt to the occasion.
Similarly, you can shift your writing style based on the situation you’re writing for. Here are some examples:
- For a memo or report for work, write in short sentences or bullet points, use the vocabulary favored by your industry, and focus on the goal.
- For emails, unless it’s a super serious topic, this is usually a place to be more casual.
- For essays or academic papers, formality goes through the roof. Read some examples of similar writing to get a sense of how to adapt.
- For presentations, the writing on your slides or your speech notes should be casual and concise to suit the spoken format.
When it comes to your writing style, just like with fashion, you can be yourself, but also be appropriate for whatever situation you’re in. If you’re aware of your habits and willing to adapt, your writing style will not only serve you in a wide range of writing scenarios but will also continue to improve with time.