Which Type of Writing Style is Right For Your Paper?
Developing writing skills is no easy feat. Much like you have to train muscles to make them stronger, you have to practice the art of authorship to hone your craft. One essential step before you ever set pen to paper is determining which form of writing you want to implement as the foundation of your piece.
There are four main types of writing: descriptive, expository, persuasive, and narrative. Each has its unique form and function, from the amount of detail you should include right down to the word choice and the citation style.
This guide will define each writing style, describe when to use it, and provide real-world examples.
What are the Different Types of Writing?
Before we dive into the details, it’s handy to have an overview of what we mean when we say “writing styles.”
Amongst experts and educators, there are four generally accepted different types of writing:
- Descriptive- Perhaps the most creative of the writing style, descriptive writing should “paint a picture” in the reader’s mind by skillfully bringing the scene to life.
- Expository- Fact-based writing that provides explanations, data, and examples in a focused and unambiguous way.
- Persuasive- Presents an argument, along with evidence and anecdotes with the intent to convince the reader to accept a particular opinion.
- Narrative- Detailed and imaginative writing tells a story about the main character, their actions, and their journey through the plot.
Each of these lends itself best to a different purpose, so the author must know what they are trying to accomplish with a piece of writing.
Of course, as with all creative pursuits, there are more exceptions than rules, but a baseline understanding of the purpose of each type helps you know when it’s okay to blur the lines and when it’s better to stick with the guidelines.
How is Each Writing Style Used?
Writing is a complex and recursive process, with plenty of personal interpretation. Our deep dive into the four common types of writing will help you create a solid foundation on which to build your individual author’s voice while still keeping within the boundaries of convention.
Most often seen in fiction, the descriptive writing style creates a scene for the reader, helping them step into the world you’re building with all of their sense engaged. Each word should add to the vivacity of their mental image, drawing them deeper into the setting and situation they are reading about.
A genuinely effective descriptive writing piece takes us out of our own lives and into the life of characters on the page. To that end, sensory language is crucial. The writing should feel interactive, thoroughly enveloping your reader in the experience.
Verb, adjective, and adverb usage should be particular. Avoid colorless descriptions such as good, bad, pretty, or ugly. Focus on word connotation to evoke emotion effectively.
To achieve this, influential descriptive writers rely on the “show, not tell” method, in which you avoid simply stating what the audience should be experiencing. Instead, it depends on shared human experiences and empathy to evoke a particular emotional response.
For example, consider these two pieces of writing and how they portray the same event:
A) After his mother yelled at him for his poor grades, Harrison walked to his bedroom to consider what to do next.
B) As Harrison tried to convince his trembling legs to begin the slow ascent up the stairs, his head bowed and eyes brimming with hot tears, a storm was brewing in his mind. The teenager suddenly felt like a toddler who’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar as he heaved a heavy, shuddering sigh.
His heart and head raced in equal measure while his mother’s words, still dripping in acid, reverberated against his eardrums despite the oppressive silence settling over his home.
You’ll also notice the use of figurative language tools, such as similes, metaphors, and personification. These go a long way in drawing your reader into the character’s worldview without the need for generalizations and prosaic explanations.
When to use it:
Often, descriptive writing is an element of narrative writing, but it stands on its own in any piece that seeks to make an emotional impact on the reader, including:
- Fiction, especially works that rely heavily on world-building or pushing a particular theme
- Travelogues and journals
- Memoirs and biographies
- Stage set design mood and tone directives
Examples of Descriptive Writing:
The following pieces exemplify descriptive writing:
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
- Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)
- “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou (1983)
On the opposite end of the spectrum from descriptive writing lies the expository writing style. Rather than depending on the human experience to draw the reader into a passage or piece, this is a “strictly business” style that clarifies and explains in explicit language a topic of which the author hopes to provide working knowledge.
Just as the name implies, expository writing is an explanation or set of instructions. Authors use it as a teaching tool, incorporating literal language that the proverbial “everyman” can easily digest.
This no-nonsense approach lends itself well to technical writing, like instructional manuals or handbooks, which should leave nothing up for interpretation.
It’s helpful to place yourself in the shoes of your readers, considering what questions they might have about a topic and how you can best address them at a novice level.
Expository writing should also steer clear of any opinions, bias, or manipulative tactics, which leans more towards a persuasive essay. Third-person perspective comes part-and-parcel with these guidelines, as the author is engaged in clearly relaying facts, figures, and logical conclusions, not their personal views.
You’ll often see citations in expository writing, as it is, by definition, research-based. To avoid accusations of plagiarism, authors typically use MLA, APA, or Chicago-style citations that credit their sources. These serve a dual purpose, as they also provide primary resources for readers seeking more information.
When to use it:
Any piece of explanatory, fact-based writing falls free of personal bias falls under the category of the expository writing style:
- Business writing, such as financial reports and case studies
- News stories, other than op-eds
- Scientific writing, lab reports, and submissions for industry journals
- Essays and reports on educational topics, like mathematical proofs or information about historical events
Examples of Expository Writing:
Expository essays welcome an incredible range of topics because they are grounded in data and written to teach their audience the who, what, when, where, and why:
- How to Write a Thesis Statement & Essay Outline by Quetext (2022)
- “Utilization of habitat by the northern hairy‐nosed wombat Lasiorhinus krefftii” by CN Johnson (1991)
- “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals” by Immanuel Kant (1785)
Persuasive writing roots itself firmly in rhetorical appeals and the elements of debate to take a stand on an author-held viewpoint. It involves artfully blending expository, descriptive, and narrative writing into an argument, the purpose of which is tempting your audience to adopt the same opinion that the piece of writing posits as superior over all others.
It’s easiest to explore persuasive writing as a series of steps, each building scaffolding readers towards appreciating and advocating for the central argument the author presents. Like an excellent sales pitch, it must precisely balance emotion with fact, seduction with data, and push towards groupthink while respecting personal, independent belief.
Because of these seemingly irreconcilable differences, it can, in turn, be one of the most complex and most exciting of the different types of writing styles.
As mentioned earlier, one must understand rhetorical appeals– ethos, pathos, kairos, and logos– to create pieces in the persuasive writing style with true efficacy. You may remember learning about them while writing a persuasive essay in your high school English courses.
- Ethos is the expertise of the author and their sources. The more regard they hold in their field, the more effective your argument and its justifications will be.
- Example: “9 out of 10 dentists prefer X brand toothpaste.”
- Pathos is the emotional aspect of this kind of writing. It seeks connection and empathy as an “in” for your overarching argument.
- Example: “For only $0.60 a day, you can save a starving child who needs your help.”
- Logos is the logic of your opinion. It often acts as a counterargument, placing the opposing view as the comparatively illogical choice.
- Example: “Insurance Company A can save you $50 a month while providing the same coverage as Insurance Company B.”
- Kairos is waiting to share your argument until the best opportunity presents itself. That can include a variety of circumstances, like presenting at a critical moment, reworking the tone of your piece before sharing publicly if you wrote it during a time of heightened anger, or the pop culture trends you reference in your work.
- Example: “With graduation on the horizon and the medical field in desperate need of caregivers, now is the time to consider a future career in nursing.”
Persuasive writing, like expository, should always include correct citations to any facts, expert opinions, or data woven into the piece.
When to use it:
Persuasive writing is valuable when trying to achieve a means to an end, portray one of society’s woes as an allegory, or convince your reader to see your viewpoint as accurate and beneficial. The following writing forms often work well within its guidelines:
- Cover letters
- Letters of recommendation
- Speeches and debates
- Op-ed journalistic writing
- Sales and marketing pitches
- Product and media reviews
Examples of Persuasive Writing:
- “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” by Winston Churchill (1940)
- “Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace (2005)
- “A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick” by Jonathan Swift (1729)
Whether you’re reading a text from your buddy describing their weekend or diving into the pages of your favorite fictional novel, you are engaging with a piece of narrative writing. The goal of this style is telling a good story.
It isn’t easy to encapsulate all of the possible formats in which narrative writing is an appropriate choice because humans, in general, are constantly engaged in the art of storytelling. Paintings, music, or chatting on the phone with a good friend require some narrative style because that is our species’ natural communication pattern.
For this same reason, narrative writing typically has a first-person point of view. We use personal pronouns when we describe an experience because the story belongs to us.
In writing, first-person perspective puts the audience in the main character’s shoes. It invites readers to jump into the story and deeply engage with it personally.
The frequency and use of literary devices shift depending on the overall tone and mode of the work, with no hard and fast rules regarding flowery language or personal opinion.
Instead, we identify narrative by its composition and organization, known as the essential plot elements: purpose, timeline, theme, character, setting, conflict, climax, and resolution. Many writers outline these elements before they begin as a reminder of what must remain consistent throughout the length of the work.
When to use it:
Narrative storytelling is a cross-cultural and age-old phenomenon, taking on the same core structure regardless of the medium or specific purpose. We see it most often in:
- Fictional or anecdotal creative writing
- Myths and fairytales
- Short stories
- Novellas and novels
Examples of Narrative Writing:
Narrative writing can span genres and styles, from historical fiction to high fantasy and everything that falls in between. There are seemingly infinite examples, which include every fiction book in existence, so I’ve chosen three of my personal favorites to exemplify this narrative writing style:
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
- “Goblin Market” by Christina Rosetti (1862)
- Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman (2018)
Choosing the Best Writing Style for Your Paper
As you set to work penning your piece, allow the purpose of your work to inform which of the different types of writing styles you choose. This not only creates a set of guidelines for you to lean on when you find yourself facing a case of writer’s block but also opens the door for you to practice blending multiple forms of writing according to your unique author’s voice.
Remember that there is always room for literary devices, regardless of the kind of writing you are working with. A clever turn-of-phrase or wry joke in the middle of an expository piece is certainly not unheard of, just as there are plenty of narrative essays that regard flowery language as an unnecessary evil.
However, what is never optional is providing credit where credit is due. Avoiding plagiarism with proper citations supports other authors, like yourself, who work hard to master their craft.
To ensure you’re doing your due diligence, try out Quetext’s free Plagiarism Checker. It’s an invaluable resource that gives you peace of mind that your work is 100% original.
When you need to give proper credit, our Citation Generator makes the process fast and easy.