The following typology of style is intended to suggest some criteria that could be used to discern and understand stylistic choices that produce different effects that are conventionally expected in different contexts of communication. In many cases, written material can be classified as a certain document format. For example, a shopping list looks different when compared with a car manual, or a letter compared with a script for a play. Knowing what type of text we are reading helps to clue us into what sort of language we might expect the writers to use, how they will organize their material, whether they are likely to include graphs and other illustrative material, and so on.
Traditionally, text types have been classified under genres, with such titles as expository, persuasive, narrative, etc. However, this classification can be misleading as many texts are actually multi-generic (i.e. they contain more than one type of mode of expression). For this reason, when analyzing a piece of writing it is more useful to focus on style than text format. This classification recognizes that one text format, say a report, can contain sections composed in a different genre and style.
This section focuses at two main types of style: specialist and journalistic. The basic distinguishing criterion between them is audience dynamics. Specialist style addresses a specific audience who may have insider knowledge of the subject, or at least a vested interest in it. Journalistic style addresses the general public and is the preferred choice when the writer wants to increase the popularity of a topic, or publicize a product.
Specialist style is suitable for an audience with a specific interest in the topic, because they may be managers, administering the business aspects of your professional field, or have a practical interest in accessing the knowledge offered.
Characteristics of this style are:
- Strong use of quantitative or quantifiable information – Provide and explain numbers, facts and measurable data, where required.
- Factual tone produced by minimal use of evaluative adjectives – Avoid words that show personal preference, such as ‘wonderful’, ‘horrendous’, ‘delightful’, ‘heartbreaking’, etc.
- Abstract entities used as agents of actions rather than people – Where possible, use words that refer to things as agents in a sentence. For example, it would be better to say, ‘The project is developing on time’ instead of ‘I am developing the project on time’.
- Focus on the topic rather than on readers’ anticipated response towards it – Avoid using direct questions, such as, ‘Don’t you think that ¦.’, or ‘Wouldn’t you ….. ‘ and expressions that attempt to tangle the reader in appeals to common sense, such as, ‘We all feel that ..’, ‘Of course, everybody knows¦..’.
- Description and analysis of topic, presented with critical distance – Describe a situation objectively, disregarding the feelings you have about it.
- Listing and points – Include some bullet points or numbered lists to highlight and detail information.
- Complete words – Avoid the use of contractions. For example, ‘it’s for it is’; ‘haven’t for have not’; etc., as they impart the writing a ‘spoken language’ or ‘chatty’ tone.
Journalistic style is more complex and harder to define because it addresses a very wide audience and comes in a variety of formats. The main purposes of documents written in this style are to inform the public of a development or event, to entertain them by presenting a personal commentary on an issue that is of collective concern, or to influence and motivate them to adopt a certain attitude towards an issue. In this respect, anything that popularizes a subject would use journalistic techniques to an extent.
Journalistic writing can vary from factual (such as reporting news stories), to informative (such as the scripting of scientific documentaries), to promotional (such as marketing products in business publications), and to polemic (such as the opinionated and biased style of editorials.
Characteristics of journalistic writing are:
- Chatty tone produced by the use of colloquial words and phrases, question-answer format and sentence fragments.
- Appeal to emotion and common sense.
- Consistent use of generalities and exaggeration.
- Consistent use of imperatives and exclamations.
- Direct address to the reader, by the usage of words like ‘you’ and ‘we’.
Dramatization of events through the use of colorful metaphors and visual language.