Skip to content

Good Writing Style – What is it?

April 19, 2011

What is a good writing style? Delegates on writing courses ask me this question, and so far I have dodged it in a rather cowardly fashion. Here is my honest attempt at a serious (but entirely personal) answer.

There are three kinds of good writing style: Good enough, Positive and Brilliant.

Good enough

A neutral, unobtrusive style that does not distract the reader. Readers do not notice it any more than you notice the temperature in the room when it is just right. Business writers need to be capable of this so that their readers can take the information they need off the shelf without guddling about in irrelevance. In a ‘good enough’ document, there are no words the reader cannot understand and no long introductory phrases at the beginning of sentences. Information is presented in a logical way with summaries where they help and big slices of detail tucked away at the back for those who need them.

Writing this way is hard work. It requires a good understanding of your readers and your subject and it takes time and serious thought to achieve.

Positive

This is a style that encourages you to read because it fits the subject matter and you, the reader, so well.  It makes you sympathise with the writer and could persuade you to support a new cause.  It uses words in an interesting way to make you notice them, avoids cliches and carries you along a pleasurable path.

Writing this way is only possible if you are willing to take the time to linger over words and consider their impact.  You will re-read what you have written and invite others to do the same.  You will remove words that fail to pay their way until you are sure that your writing will achieve the desired effect.  You will use repetition deliberately for emphasis and eliminate it when it grates.

Brilliant

This is writing that transports you.  Poets create pictures and moods with very few words. Copywriters build brand loyalty by weaving words and images into a fabric that envelops you without your permission.  Storytellers speak directly to your imagination and leave you with pins and needles because you have sat so still for so long.

This is art.  It is performed by people who love it.

I think you may be saying to yourself as you read this: ‘these are not writing styles, they are standards, qualities, levels of achievement…’  fill in your own word.  I agree with you.  How would describe a good writing style?  It is good if it fulfills the purpose that you set out with and appeals to the audience you are writing for.

I have tried to find examples of writing that can be objectively considered to be good, because I believe that discussing good writing is a better way to teach it than picking holes in extremely bad writing.  But the people I showed my examples to didn’t always agree with me.  They thought it was ‘over the top’ or ‘rather vague’.  I found it persuasive but they didn’t.  So where does this leave us?

Is there such a thing as ‘good writing style’?

Advertisements
6 Comments leave one →
  1. Frank Hobson permalink
    April 21, 2011 08:49

    Seems to me that readers trying to “..take the information they need off the shelf without guddling about in irrelevance..” will need to spend some time guddling about in a dictionary.

    • April 26, 2011 15:34

      Meaning that ‘guddling’ is a word people would have to look up?

      • Frank Hobson permalink
        April 27, 2011 09:07

        Precisely. If indeed they can find it. I didn’t know the word and my first attempt, via the online version of Chambers, came up blank. Second go, using reference.com, found ‘trout-tickling’. Could become street slang for all sorts of strange activities.

      • April 27, 2011 09:31

        But was the meaning clear from the context without looking it up? I hoped that it was. One of the questions that interests me is this: if writers are careful only to use words that their readers are sure to understand, this must lead eventually to a reduction in everyone’s vocabulary. Writers will avoid words they might have used in case their readers’ vocabulary is smaller than their own. I enjoy it when I read a word I did not know and find it admirable when the writer makes the meaning clear (subtly of course) from the context.

  2. Frank permalink
    April 27, 2011 09:49

    Well, gruddling does have a certain onomatopoeic quality – sounds a bit like grubbing about – so did get the message. Also don’t disagree about finding new words but you were discribing a “A neutral, unobtrusive style that does not distract the reader.” So thought it fit to have a dig.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: