At one time or another, all of us have experienced the instantaneous recognition of a distinctive writing style. We open a memo—purported to be from our boss—but, two sentences in, we know it was ghost-written by Paul in the communications department, simply from its style. We hear a song for the first time on a music site, and we immediately recognize that it was written by Randy Newman, just from its lyrics and subject matter. We peek at an e-book page in the next cube, and clearly our colleague has downloaded a free copy of a Shakespearean play. There’s no confusing The Bard’s style with that of Stephen King.
Even though we know it when we see it (and miss it when we don’t), a writing style often is difficult to describe or dissect. We may not be happy with our own style but be clueless as to how to change it. One way to begin is to examine six elements that impact your writing style. Each of these adds to (or subtracts from) making your style your own.
If that sounds like branding language, it is. Your writing style certainly is a crucial aspect of your personal brand. Say “Abraham Lincoln” and you’re as likely to think about his Gettysburg Address or Second Inaugural Address as you are about his Civil War leadership. Winston Churchill was defined by his speech writing style as much as by any of his actions. Try adjusting or expanding on the following six elements, recognizing that one approach is not necessarily better than another and that often you may combine approaches:
- Tone: Do you write in a casual way or use inflated, formal language? Are your points made with sarcasm or humor? Does your writing sound breathless or relaxed?
- Vocabulary: Are you stuck in corporate-ese, filling in your sentences with the latest buzzwords? Or have you worked to expand you vocabulary so that you choose words with more precise meanings and less repetition? Do you enjoy a play on words or do you prefer the industry lingo?
- Perspective: Does your content reflect a comprehension of the background or history of issues and events? Or do you write from a strong understanding of current trends? Are you inclined to write from a future-oriented viewpoint, with a focus on outcomes and predictions,
rather than on origins or recent fads?
- Sentence structure: Are you adding variety to your sentences with opening clauses, transition words and a question inserted here and there? Are you avoiding repetition and ensuring that you are not simply lining up statement after statement? Are you ensuring that the most important parts of your key sentences are placed at the beginning or the end of the sentence, rather than being buried in the middle?
- Imagery: Do you bring metaphors, alliteration or other literary devices to your writing? Are you using extensive details to create mental images? Or, like Ernest Hemingway, do you prefer simple language that paints a picture and exposes character?
- Storytelling: Are you making your points with stories and examples, or do you prefer to make reasoned and cogent arguments? Do you concentrate on the impact of actions or the implementation of the actions?
You are one of a kind, and you have the power to express that individuality by making your brand more stylish.
— Steve Friedman is the director of marketing communications at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.