Writing styles and improving your communication

 In communication, Writing

Understanding how different writing styles work is an important skill for the communicator’s toolkit. A great communicator can’t avoid knowing how to write well for their audience. Choosing the best writing style is an important decision you’ll have to make if you’re keen to get your message across.

Let’s take a quick look at what a writing style is and how you can use it to improve your communication success. We’ll do this by answering:

  • What is a writing style?
  • How do you define different writing styles?
  • What is the best writing style to adopt?
  • How can you develop mastery over style in your writing?

What is writing style

Writing style refers to how you express your thoughts and ideas on paper (or screen) using words, sentences, and paragraphs. The consistent choices you make in these areas when writing anything creates what we call a writing “style”. It can also include the tone you have in your writing.

How do you define writing style?

There are many different writing styles that we understand through labels:

  • Plain language
  • Journalese
  • Legalese
  • Conversational
  • Beurocratese
  • And a whole lot more…

Labels are good way to summarise a set of principles around how a writer will choose their words, construct sentences and organise their thoughts.

A common writing style today is called plain language. As its name suggests, it emphasises using plain language so that it is easy for the reader to understand the message or content. For example, it promotes choosing simple over fancy words and concrete words. It involves writing short sentences and adopting the “active” tense as much as possible. Finally, it features few sentences in a paragraph and only having one idea per paragraph.

Contrast this with legalese where you will find a lot of big, complicated and “jargony” words. Long sentences – 45 plus. And no concern around active versus passive tenses.

The point I hope you’re getting is that you can see different styles by how the writer consistently chooses their words, constructs their sentences and organises ideas in paragraphs.

Is one style better than another?

What is the best writing style?

It all depends.

Depends on your audience and purpose.

Using a conversational style to document legal information is probably not going to cut it in a document for the legal profession. There are also some complicated sounding legal words or terms that need to be in a legal document. In certain legal settings legalese is the best of the writing styles to use.

But I reckon a legalese style would be one of the worst writing styles to use on this blog.

I believe the best writing style to use on this blog is plain language with a conversational tone. This will work better for you, my reader. I’m convinced that through this writing style my message will cut across much better than legalese.

The best writing style depends on what will work best with your audience and help you achieve your purpose.

Back to writing styles

That’s why to become a great communicator, it’s worth understanding different writing styles and how word choice, sentence construction and paragraph idea organisation create that style. This will help you see what different writings styles are available, and give you great intel on how to write in that style if you need it to reach your audience.

There is a lot more to learn about style – which I cover in a lot more detail in my book Bullseye! – Getting the RIGHT message to the RIGHT audience. But starting with these points is a solid first step towards becoming a great communicator in writing.

The best way to understand how writing styles work is to choose one piece of written communication and examine it for words, sentences and paragraphs. What kind of words does the communicator use? How doe the sentences work together? How does the communicator organise the flow of ideas between paragraphs? What style does this fit into? Most importantly, does this collection of style elements work for the intended audience?

Next choose another written communication piece that is different. Ask the same questions and compare the answers.

The idea is to look at different written communication pieces to understand how they work from a style perspective and evaluate whether this is good for the audience. The more you do this, the better you’ll get at understanding different styles and making great decisions.

Here’s to your communication success!

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communication skills