Writing style

Style should not be confused with grammar and mechanics-you can write many grammatically correct sentences that are murky and confusing. That said, there are many different kinds of successful writing styles for many different kinds of successful writing. Journalism, for instance, has its own set of stylistic guidelines, as does creative writing-even instant messaging has spawned new written “style.”

Style-the way you write-is largely dependent upon your audience, and the arena in which your audience operates. Academic and professional writing both require that your writing be clear, active, direct, and logical. The challenge then becomes how you meet those goals through the written word. That challenge is made greater by the fact that professions and academic disciplines tend to use a lot of language specific to their fields-language that you may never encounter outside the field, but language that you need to become comfortable using. Using unfamiliar language can be uncomfortable, and often leads writers to feel that they must use overly complicated words and syntax in order to successfully mimic the best writing in their fields.

Fortunately, almost all available advice on style argues that you should write as directly and simply as is possible, given the constraints of your chosen field. For instance, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center offers a set of handouts that suggests how you might write clearly and effectively: http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/ClearConciseSentences.html. A similar resource is available from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/gl_sentclar.html.

For a more general online resource for style, see the classic style guide by William Strunk, Jr., The Elements of Style, made available on bartleby.com: http://www.bartleby.com/141/.


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