Reading to Think Lesson R3: Reading for Style

Three Concepts of  Writing Style

Style has many, many definitions—each depending upon the tool that creates it: clothing, speaking, performing, studying, mowing the lawn (e.g., observe: do you mow your lawn and if so, do you mow it the same way as your neighbors?), and (of course) writing.

There is the style of format and documentation that a writer uses.  Often, in published works, the style used is Chicago Manual of Style, but many publishers have their own particular brand of formatting and documentation.  Academic works take on a format and documentation style that addresses the needs of a particular discipline.  For example, geologists use a style designed by the Geological Society of America, while scholars of languages and literature make use of a style designed by the Modern Language Association (MLA), and educators and psychologists make use of a style designed by the American Psychological Association. (For what to use for your papers for this class, see Thinking to Write Lesson W1.)  In other words, style can mean the “brand” of citation and format that the writer uses.

The most general is the style of your writing in terms of culture at a particular time and place.  For example, the style of your clothing represents early twenty-first century North American dress–not the general style of late seventeenth century France.  Likewise, the style of your formal writing (a central concern of this class) should reflect the cultural values of formal English language writers of early twenty-first century United States of America: it should have a formal style of voice.  You are reading many non-academic works are very contemporary: they have a style that is generally easy to read for people of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Within the parameters of a general writing style, there are individualized styles of writing.  Such individualized styles are reflective of the writer’s voice and the selected tone(s) contained within that writer’s voice, including choice of words (diction).  Voice can be the sound one makes with the larynx and uttered through the mouth (obviously), but voice can also refer to the nature of that sound, its range or pitch (soprano, alto, tenor, bass).  Voice is also expression: one might have a powerful voice (through speech or writing), one that attracts and keeps attention.  Tone refers to the emotional quality of the voice, the feeling that a voice shares through words, music, images, or some other communication tool.

How a writer composes a written expression determines just how unique it is to that writer.  Writers manipulate their styles on a wide range–from word choices to sentence structures to paragraph and essay construction– to give their writing an individual voice, a personality.

    • VOICE:
      • Active vs. Passive Voice: the voice is active when the action is being done by the subject; the voice is passive when the action is being done to the subject.
        • Active Voice: She clearly made her argument.
        • Passive Voice:
          • The argument was made clearly by her.
          • The argument was made.
      • Personified Voice: the expression of one’s thoughts, beliefs and/or feelings in a particular way.
    • TONE: the particular way that something, such as voice, is expressed–such as in terms of attitude, positive or negative feeling, humor, sadistic, sad, happy, . . . .
    • DICTION: how one chooses which types of words can affect the tone of his/her personified voice. For example:
      • This person’s statements are so full of logical fallacy and ungrounded emotionally expressed declarations that it is clear that is little more than outrageous propaganda.
      • What that person argued is absurd, simply outrageous propaganda.
      • This person’s statements are wrong.
      • This person is full of doggy poo-poo.
      • Ack! Nonsense!

Consider how your thinking style might affect your writing style:

Mind Map by Jayne Cormie

Here is an example of how voice and tone, via diction and arrangement, affect style, which ultimately affect the meaning: