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The 4 Different Writing Styles (and How to Use Them)

Shaun Connell
June 23, 2023

When you think of the concept of different writing styles, your mind might first go to Ernest Hemingway's famously concise, objective prose or James Joyce's intricate stream-of-consciousness passages.

From this perspective, one would assume that there are an infinite number of writing styles. Or, at the very least, as many writing styles as there are writers.

Solution In broader terms, though, it's generally accepted that there are only four different basic writing styles. These are expository, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative. The intention of each of these styles is as follows: expository writing explains, descriptive writing describes, persuasive writing convinces, and narrative writing tells a story.

Within each of these, an author's tone, voice, diction, word choice, sentence structure, and so much more can further define their personal style. Beyond that, these styles are mutually exclusive-- a piece of writing might contain several of them. Let's take a closer look at what you need to know about these four primary writing styles.

What Are Writing Styles?

An author's writing style is determined by both their purpose in writing as well as their audience. While every writer has their own unique voice and their work is a reflection of their own personality and style, every piece of writing is ultimately created for a specific purpose.

One could say that there are as many author writing styles as there are writers. At the same time, writing styles can actually be broken down into four broad categories.

The writing styles we'll discuss in this article have to do with the basic intent of a piece of writing and the desire of the audience. For example, the expository writing style is used to explain something in a fact-based, bias-free way. On the other hand, narrative writing focuses on telling a story and doesn't necessarily require incorporating data, figures, or research that backs up any specific claim.

The Four Different Writing Styles

While you'll find different opinions on the number of different writing styles, it is generally accepted that there are four basic writing style categories.

These are:

  • Expository
  • Descriptive
  • Persuasive
  • Narrative

Within each of these, there are obviously many ways that an author can distinguish themselves stylistically. However, understanding these four broad groups can help writers approach their craft more deliberately and write more effectively.

1. Expository

Expository writing aims to provide an explanation of a specific concept and provide information to the reader. This type of writing style focuses on the facts of the topic at hand and provides stats, evidence, or results to explicate the subject further.

textbooks using one of the four different writing styles

Examples of expository writing: Technical, business, or scientific writing, how-to articles, recipes, news stories (that aren't op-eds or editorials), and textbooks

As opposed to persuasive writing, which we'll discuss below, writers do not typically express their opinions when writing in the expository style.

When you read an expository essay, you're engaging with facts and figures that are relevant to the topic at hand. This is the type of writing you come across when you read a how-to article online or are reading a textbook studying for an exam.

You'll typically find that expository pieces are written in a logical sequence and order. This isn't the type of work to get structurally creative with-- the idea is to explain something in a straightforward manner without including one's opinion.

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The Most Common Forms of Expository Writing

Any type of writing that helps a reader understand something in detail can be considered an example of the expository writing style.

That being said, some of the most common examples of this type of writing include:

  • Descriptive essays: These are essays that describe a topic or theme to the audience using traits, characteristics, and sensory information. Though it will include data in an expository manner, it will also use descriptive language to help the reader visualize the situation.
  • Process writing: These are pieces that guide the audience through the necessary steps to complete a certain task. For example, how-to guides and recipes will help the reader understand what specific tasks need to be done in order to reach a specific outcome.
  • Cause and effect writing: This type of writing describes the cause of a topic and its outcome. The intent is to show how one theme or topic impacts another theme or topic. Cause and effect writing often relies on research and citations to correlate two subjects and explain their relationship.
  • Comparative and contrast writing: This type of writing analyzes two different ideas or topics against one another. The similarities and differences are discussed, and the perspective remains unbiased.
  • Classification essay: This type of essay outlines smaller subcategories of a broad topic. Writers will often use this method to write educational or academic papers.
  • Problem and solution: Problem and solution writing focuses on addressing or fixing a specific problem. Facts are used in order to back up the claims for how to solve the issue.

Tips For Writing in the Expository Style

If you want to write in the expository style, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Include factual information
  • Stay objective and keep your opinion out of it
  • Present the information in a linear and logical format-- this isn't the place to get creative
  • Stay clear about the purpose of the piece
  • Only use literary devices like juxtaposition or similes when they help make the facts clearer to the audience.
  • Make sure you check your facts!

2. Descriptive

Descriptive writing intends to offer imagery to the reader so that they can have a clear picture of what is being described. This can help the audience engage with the writing using their senses and become more connected to the piece.

Examples of descriptive writing: Memoirs, journal or diary writing, fictional novels or plays, poetry, and first-hand accounts of events

  • Many literary techniques are commonly employed as a part of the descriptive writing style to further engage the reader, including metaphors, similes, and allegories.

Descriptive writing is often poetic in nature. When an author writes descriptively, they are helping the audience understand the sensory experience of being in a certain place. They illustrate the sights, sounds, smells, atmosphere, and vibes of a place, event, location, situation, or person. Descriptive writing is highly detailed as it intends to really provide a picture for the reader.

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Examples of Descriptive Writing

Let's look at a few examples to help you get a better picture of what we're talking about when discussing descriptive writing.

Here's a passage from Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms:

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”

Do you see how Hemingway paints a picture using the sense of sight? His famous straightforward manner makes it easy for any reader to imagine they're right there in the scene.

Another example comes from The Great Gatsby:

“The flowers were unnecessary, for two o’clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby’s, with innumerable receptacles to contain it. An hour later the front door opened nervously, and Gatsby, in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-colored tie, hurried in. He was pale, and there were dark signs of sleeplessness beneath his eyes.”

Here, F. Scott Fitzgerald creates an image of Gatsby that helps the reader visualize precisely what is happening. This is a great example of how descriptive writing can remain short and precise while still being very effective.

Tips For Writing in the Descriptive Style

When using the descriptive style, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Incorporate sensory details and "show, don't tell."
  • Use figurative language like metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia, and hyperbole
  • Remember that less is sometimes more-- be cautious over over-description
  • Write from the perspective of the speaker-- consider how they would describe a scene, event, or situation

3. Persuasive

Persuasive writing is just what it sounds like-- a writing style where the author is attempting to convince the reader that a certain argument or position is valid. This type of writing will include the writer's opinions and will also incorporate evidence and justifications to support their claims.

Examples of persuasive writing: Editorial newspaper articles, op-eds, cover letters, letters of recommendation, academic argumentative essays, advertisements, and reviews

  • When you use the persuasive writing method, the intention is to convince.
  • Similar to expository writing, which can include facts and figures, it's different in that the author actually takes a stand and offers their opinion.

It's common for persuasive writing to contain what is known as a "call-to-action." This is essentially a step that the author wants the reader to take when they finish with the piece. In an advertisement, a call-to-action might relate to buying a specific product or signing up for a service. In a political speech, this might be a rallying cry to vote in the next election or get further involved in a particular social issue.

Famous Examples of Persuasive Writing

Persuasive essays and speeches have assisted a number of significant historical movements and events.

Some famous examples from history include:

  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)
  • Woodrow Wilson's War Message to Congress (1917)
  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" Speech (1963)
  • Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" (1863)
  • The Declaration of Independence (1776)

Persuasive writing is also common in advertising campaigns. Some famous ones you might remember (or even still see on TV screens, billboards, and magazine ads) include:

  • Nike: "Just Do It"
  • Wendy's: "Where's the Beef?"
  • De Beers: "A Diamond Is Forever"
  • Skittles: "Taste the Rainbow"
  • American Express "Don't Leave Home Without It"
  • Maybelline: "Maybe She's Born With It"

Though it might sound strange that "Where's the Beef?" is considered the same writing style as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the reality is that both political speeches and advertising campaigns heavily rely on persuasive techniques.

Tips For Writing in the Persuasive Style

If you'd like to practice using the persuasive style, use these tips to help guide you:

  • Write about a topic you are passionate about and argue from a perspective you believe in-- it will make it more persuasive!
  • Know your audience in order to understand how best to persuade them
  • Research both sides in order to present the most persuasive argument
  • Hook the reader's attention using a declarative statement from the get-go
  • Be empathetic and appeal to the reader's emotions
  • Ask rhetorical questions that readers will be compelled to answer themselves.
  • Use repetition to drive your point home and reinforce the argument
  • Familiarize yourself with famous speeches and advertising campaigns- these will incorporate persuasive writing techniques!
  • Learn about human psychology-- there's a reason that marketing experts are well-versed in the science of how people think, react, and behave
  • Speak directly to the reader

4. Narrative

Narrative writing aims to share information with the reader within the context of a story. Narratives include settings, characters, and conflicts.

woman reading fiction book using one of the different writing styles

Examples of narrative writing: Novels, short stories, historical accounts, and poetry

A narrative can be fiction, non-fiction, or lie somewhere in the gray area in between. When an author tells a narrative story, they're describing a story or event using characters and dialogue. In most cases, narratives will have a clear beginning, middle, and end following the narrative story arc.

Though different terms can be used to explain the basic structure of a narrative, here's one common model:

  1. Exposition: This is when the setting and the characters are introduced
  2. Rising action: These are the events that build conflict for the characters, particularly the protagonist
  3. Climax: This is the highest, most intense point of conflict and tension in the story
  4. Falling action: These are the events that come after the climax
  5. Denouement: This is the point when the conflict is resolved

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Understanding the Elements of a Narrative

Narratives- whether they're novels, TV shows, films, short fiction, biographies, or other works- involve several key elements worth understanding.

These include:

  • Theme: This is the overarching idea that the author is trying to convey to the reader.
  • Plot: This is the structure of the narrative as the author helps the reader move through time. Most narratives follow the traditional plot structure outlined above, including an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. However, some narratives will stray from this structure purposefully.
  • Characters: These are the people that are participants in the narrative. There is typically a main character, known as the protagonist, and an opposing character, known as the antagonist.
  • Conflict: The conflict of a story is the primary problem or issue that the characters deal with in the narrative. The structure of the narrative revolves around how the characters relate to this conflict and respond to it.
  • Setting: This is where and when the story takes place. The setting might just be a backdrop, or it might have a symbolic meaning to the story.
  • Point of View: This is the perspective from which the story is told. Point of view can include first-person, third-person, and third-person omniscient narrators.
  • Style: Finally, style refers to how language is used by the writer. This includes tone, voice, diction, sentence style, and more.

Examples of Narrative Writing

There are countless examples of narrative writing that you can explore as you learn more about the different writing styles.

Here are just a handful of famous examples:

  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Tips For Writing in the Narrative Style

When writing a narrative piece, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Use descriptive writing to evoke feelings rather than telling the audience what's happening by listing facts-- use techniques like similes, metaphors, and personification
  • Listen to how people tell stories to learn about the natural flow of how people engage with narratives
  • Play around with the different types of narrative writing, including linear, nonlinear, viewpoint, and descriptive narrative.
  • Get creative-- unlike expository writing, you have full license to play around and experiment when writing narratives.

Ready to Turn Your Writing Skills Into Cash?

Learning about different writing styles can help you be a better writer, whether you do so as a hobby or as a career. One of the great things about writing is that just about anyone can get into it, but then there is so much depth when it comes to learning more, developing your skills, and honing your craft.

  • If you're ready to transition from writing for fun to writing for pay, you've come to the right place.

I started Freelance Writing Jobs because I'm in a unique position, having worked both as a freelance writer and as a site owner managing writers. Being able to see things from both sides of the aisle, I wanted to create a place where clients and writers could find one another in an easy, streamlined way.

From that desire, the Freelance Writing Jobs board was born! This is a place where you can find brand new posts every day from high-paying clients. Whether you're looking to write expository how-to articles or narrative blog posts, you can find it all on our job board.

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Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell has spent his entire career either working as a freelance writer or hiring freelance writers for his many successful publications. Shaun has learned the exact tricks of the trade to hire the perfect writer for almost any niche.

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