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  • J Hopkins

What's Your Writing Style?, April 13, 2022, by Jude Hopkins

What defines your writing style? I rarely revert to Wikipedia for the best definitions, but I do like the

simplicity of this: “Beyond the essential elements of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, writing style is the choice of words, sentence structure, and paragraph structure used to convey the meaning effectively.”

Now, at the outset, let me say that I am aware of the discussions swirling around writing style, especially as it is indicative of social identities, discussions prevalent in the writing centers and composition departments in schools and universities across the nation. I am sensitive to these concerns.

But here I am merely talking about the effect of style on readers. And how it can make the difference between someone engaged with your writing or putting the book down.

I’m reading “Ulysses” by James Joyce. Yes, I admit I’m relying on several guidebooks to help me wade through the thousands of allusions the author uses. In one of them, “The Guide to James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses,’” author Patrick Hastings notes that in the first episode, Joyce uses a lot of adverbs, “a quirk typical of immature writers,” a deliberate choice to show the two characters featured—Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan—“need to grow up.”

Yes, style can be that specific.

I studied style with a beloved professor at Arizona State University who was steeped in classical rhetoric. So style for him meant choice of words, arrangement of words, tropes (choice of diction, figures involving words, etc.,) and schemes (sentence types and variations).

In his analysis of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Richard P. Fulkerson noted that effective stylistic choices in argument can work on an audience in three ways:

1. It can carry meaning more effectively;

2. It may have a subtle way of working on the emotions, such as by way of alliteration;

3. It may enhance a writer’s image and/or credibility.

So, yes, it’s important! Even in non-argumentative writing. How often do you think about the effect of your style on your audiences or projected audiences?

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about style, but I’ll leave you with some thoughts by Helen Sword, author of “Stylish Academic Writing.” She mainly addresses the genre of writing in her book title, but I think the qualities she lists for writing that “stands out” certainly applies to all kinds of writing: “passion, commitment, pleasure, playfulness, humor, elegance, lyricism, originality, imagination, creativity, and ‘undisciplined thinking.’”

In fact, Sword has a website wherein you can test your style. I’ll admit, it’s a bit arbitrary, but it might be a good starting point for you to see where you are in terms of your writing choices. Go to the WritersDiet test at You’ll be asked to input a writing sample, with results showing whether your style is “flabby” or “fit.”

You’ll also be given an action plan to work with. It might be a good starting point. Try it.



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