Chapter 10 What About Style

Writing With Style

  • What constitutes a smartly chosen writing style depends on the rhetorical situation
  • We define style as "thoughtful flexibility" (the ability to adapt our voice, word choice, sentence structure, rhetorical effects, and document design to different situations, expectations, or demands

Scholarly Style

  • The universal rule for good style is for it to seem deliberate, with every word and sentence carefully chosen for its particular audience, purpose and situation
  • Effective scholars try to write compelling prose that cannot possibly be misunderstood

Higher Order and Later Order Concerns

  • Scholars typically concentrate on big-picture concerns in early drafts and more minute concerns later
  • Revision focuses on higher order concerns (focus, development, organization, and whether our ideas make sense)
  • Later concerns include grammar, punctuation, etc.

Three Reasons Not To Worry About Polishing Your Prose Until You Have Your Ideas Carved Out

  1. Perfectionism can cause writer's block
  2. Polishing can waste time and energy
  3. Editing while drafting is less effective (difficult to concentrate on everything at once)


  • Refer to sentence-level concerns, which include spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and usage
  • Errors - significantly affect the meaning, add confusion, diminish credibility
  • Grammar - involves the rules for how we use language traditionally or formally
  • Usage - how most people actually use language in everyday conversations
  • Punctuation - make our writing more readable; prevent confusion and reading fatigue by correctly punctuating sentences; helps communicate clearly (emphasize our argument and persuade readers subtly; create a spectrum of connections between ideas
  • Intentional Errors - bend or break the mechanical rules for effect; use incomplete sentences, extra punctuation, or one-word answers because the prose reads better with the intentional error; some errors enhance the meaning or clarity of our message


  • Scholarly writing often employs active voice, where the doer of the action (subject) comes before the object
  • Passive voice reverses the sentence order, placing the object before the verb and subject
  • Many readers prefer active voice because it's clearer and easier to read

Clarity and Vividness

  • The point of writing is to communicate (if our style interferes with out ability to communicate, we've adopted the wrong style)
  • To avoid an overly academic, pretentious style, consider using strong verbs
  • Less can be more
  • Vivid and precise language - helps incorporate details into your writing that help readers feel, see, and experience your message

Creative Choices We Make To Improve Style

  • Imitation - useful technique for learning to write (imitating order writers whom you admire)
  • Sentence Variation - writing multiple versions of a sentence
    • Rhetorical variation: change the audience, purpose, or context
    • Amplification: elaborate, exaggerate, or use analogy, metaphor, or simile
    • Linguistic variation: substitute vocabulary or rearrange the order
    • Genre translation: rewrite the sentence in verse, or as a Tweet
  • Figure of Speech - use metaphors and analogies to introduce radically new concepts to each other or to explain specialized ideas to nonscientists; can create fresh understanding and even be used beyond the sentence level as argumentative techniques

Visual Design

  • Carefully crafted visual elements can help use compose arguments in clear, vivid, and compelling ways; helps us present information, but it can itself become part of the message

Writing in Digital Space (online)

  • Less is more; keep it simple and remember what we know about rhetoric: design with audience and purpose in mind
  • Writing online is difference because: it's hypertextual (Internet facilitates foraging more than careful reading), it's always public, audiences move quickly, the Web is big and noisy (it's hard to be heard)

Proofreading and Editing

  • Reading your writing aloud is a very effective technique that doesn't require much expertise but yields great results; hearing your own sentences can help you better imagine how your reader will experience your writing
  • Reviewing With Others - check whether your main points come across clearly
  • Use Technology - spell-checking tools; think carefully before you take your word processor's advice

Developing More Style

  • Good writing connects with its reader
  • Successful writers never stop collecting and perfecting their toolkit of writing skills and knowledge; grow through continued practice
  • Always reader as a writer and Always write as a reader
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