What Is Writing Style?

We often hear of the term ‘writing style’ – the ‘writing style’ of this writer is good, but the ‘style’ of that writer is not. What is this ‘style’ that we talk about?

‘Writing style’ refers to the manner in which writers express themselves. This manner is based on the choices they make in selecting their syntactical structures, diction, and figures of speech. It is these unique and personal choices that give identity to a writer. Generally style evolves from two things – naturally over a period of time; and the choices a writer makes consciously keeping in mind the audience and the purpose of writing.

If you are a new writer and would like to develop a style of your own, keep these points in mind:

1. Read. Read voraciously and broadly. The more you read on a wide range of topics by a variety of writers, the better you’ll be able to understand what style is, and as a result, the better your own style will evolve into.

2. Write. Write as much as possible on as many topics as possible. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or bad… just write. Before long you’ll see your style evolving.

3. Choose words wisely. Select your words judiciously. Don’t try to use difficult words just to impress your readers. Trying to use difficult words just to sound intelligent only leads to their wrong use, and as a result spoiling your whole piece of writing. If you’re stuck on the right choice of words, use a good thesaurus.

4. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Say what you have to say clearly and precisely in as few words as possible. Writing long sentences and paragraphs can lead to writing irrelevant things and as a result moving away from your main topic.

5. Get acquainted with figures of speech. Don’t use figures of speech – like metaphors, similes, clichés, and so on – unless you know them well, and know when and how to use or not use them. Not understanding them fully, can lead to their wrong use, and as a result making your writing sound awkward.

6. Be clear. Write whatever you write with clarity and as simply and logically as possible. The important thing here is to get your point across in a way that anyone who reads it – not just a few – can easily understand it.

7. Be yourself. Try and do all the above in your own way and as naturally as possible. Any deliberate attempt can make your writing sound fake and stilted.

These points are just a guide to developing your own writing style – a style which reflects your own individual personality.

Have I mentioned all the points or do you think something else should (or should not) be done to develop a writing style?

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What Does ‘Re:’ Stand For?

Today one of my students asked me what “re:” stood for in the subject lines of e-mails (and letters).   I thought I’d write the answer here, too, since many people take it to mean something else.

“Re:” is what is written in the subject line of e-mails (and in letters) to tell the receiver what the topic of the message is. For example: ‘Re: Your article’. Most people take this “re:” to stand for ‘reference’ or ‘regarding’. The reason for this could be that both these words start with the letters ‘re’, and what follows these letters is actually referring to the topic of the message. However, this is a misconception. What “re” actually stands for is the Latin word “res”. “Re” is the ablative form of the noun “res”, which means ‘thing’ or ‘affair’. Therefore, “re” means ‘about the thing’ or ‘about the affair’.

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What is Confident Writing?

We often hear the term ‘confident writing’. What is confident writing? Don’t we all write confidently? Well, this depends – depends on how we write.  First let us define ‘confident writing’, then we’ll go on to the ‘how’.

Confident writing is when we have full faith in ourselves as writers. We write because we want to write and not because we want to please others. In other words, we don’t try to impress our readers by using fancy words or phrases. Instead, we write with the words that come naturally to us, just like in speech. In short, we are just us, no one else.

So, how can you tell if a writing is confident? Here are the tell-tale signs of confident writing:

1. The language is simple and direct. That is, the words flow as naturally as in speech. If long and hard words have been used and the language is too formal, it is obvious that a lot of effort has been put in to impress the reader. And if effort has been put in, then naturally the writer has no confidence in his natural words and style. So, what does this mean? That the writing is not confident.

If for some reason you find yourself struggling with words or ways to say things, change the topic. Write about something that you feel at ease with, something that you feel strongly about, or have personally experienced. If it’s creative writing and you’re describing a scene, think of a scene that you have personally seen and describe that. This will bring confidence in your writing.

2. There is conviction in what is being said.  Whatever the topic, it should show the writer’s conviction and confidence in it. If references have been used – like “according to experts” if it’s non-fiction, and “it seemed like” in fiction – it shows that the writer is not sure of what he/she is writing so is shifting the responsibility elsewhere. Shifting responsibilities is a sign of no confidence.

Again, if you find yourself unsure of your topic, change it to something that you’re sure of. If you want to keep to the same topic, research well before embarking on your project. Write only after you know the topic well, and can write without words like “probably”, “usually”, or “very often”.

3. A point is being made. Everything that is written should make a point. There should be proper evidence, explanation, and description of whatever is being said. Writing without a point is aimless writing, and aimless writing shows lack of confidence.

Before you start writing, make sure that you know what point you’re going to make. Do you have enough evidence to prove your point? If not, do some studying and gather enough information. Then write with confidence and be prepared to be accountable for what you say.

These three points constitute confident writing. Or have I missed a point? What else do you think constitutes confident writing?

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Rhetorical Devices

This post is a follow-up of my previous post on clichés. The reason? I received several requests from readers asking me to clarify, or explain, the rhetorical devices further. There is confusion in the minds of some as to what is what. It is not possible to write everything on the subject in one post, so I’ll just restrict myself to the queries that I received. The rest will follow in future posts.

First off:

What is a rhetorical device? Rhetoric is the study of effective speaking and writing. It is also described as the art of persuasion. Therefore, a rhetorical device is a means of, or a tool used to effectively speak or write. The main devices:

Figure of speech: This is a rhetorical device that uses words in distinctive ways to achieve special effects. Figures of speech are used to emphasize or bring freshness to expression. There are several different types of figures of speech – some being metaphor, simile, and personification.

Metaphor: A metaphor is a figure of speech, which compares two things without the use of ‘like’ or ‘as’. It is used to bring more force to the comparison. For example: a heart of stone, or food for thought.

Idiom: An idiom is a figure of speech – a phrase that means something other than its literal meaning. For example: get cold feet (meaning: become timid), or rat race (meaning= struggle for success).

Cliché: A cliché is a phrase that conveys a particular message, but has been so overused that it now sounds boring and irritating. For example: at the end of the day, or bottom line.

What are the similarities/differences between the above?

Difference between a metaphor and an idiom: A metaphor and an idiom are two different things. Whereas a metaphor compares a person or thing to something that possesses similar characteristics, an idiom is a phrase whose meaning as a unit differs from the meanings of words (of the phrase) taken separately. For example (taking the examples given above):

A heart of stone is comparing the heart with a stone – meaning the heart has no feeling, just like a stone doesn’t. (Meaning = the person has no feelings in his/her heart). Therefore, it is a metaphor.

Get cold feet – here there is no comparison. Instead, the whole phrase has an implied meaning, i.e. becoming timid. This implies meaning is very different from the literal meaning. Therefore, it is an idiom.

Difference between an idiom and a cliché: The idiom has been explained above. A cliché on the other hand, is a phrase that has become stale or boring due to its overuse. This phrase may be anything – a proverb, a metaphor, a simile (a comparison with the words like or as), an idiom, or even a single word. Hence, terms like metaphorical clichés (clichés that are metaphors).

So, what we see here is that an idiom can be a cliché, and a cliché can be an idiom… and yet, the two are different. Some ask – how can we tell whether a phrase is an idiom or a cliché? The deciding factor is its use – if the phrase is a common one and you hear it several times a day, then it’s a cliché, otherwise it’s an idiom.

There is so much that can be written on the topic, but I confined myself to the questions that were asked.

By the way, how would you tell the difference between an idiom and a cliché?

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What is a White Paper?

One of my students recently asked me exactly what a white paper was since he had seen it used in different ways. He was right – it is used in different ways. There’s the American way and there’s the British way.

In American English, a white paper is an authoritative report, or a guide, that addresses issues and problems, and the different ways of solving them. It is generally used by businesses as a marketing or sales tool. For example, a white paper of a business that deals in technical products is a document that promotes the products by giving their details, their benefits, and if there are problems, ways of solving them.  This information may be given separately, or all together. That is – there may be white papers giving technical details of the products (like how the products work), or white papers stating the benefits of the products, or those which are troubleshooting guides, or they may be combinations of two or more of these. The purpose of these white papers is to inform and educate prospective buyers about the products.

In British English, a white paper is a parliamentary paper stating government policy on a certain issue or issues. The topic is usually a current issue which the government talks about in detail in the white paper – what the issue or concern is, the government’s policy on the issue, how it proposes to deal with it, and whether a law will be passed or not.

In Britain and the Commonwealth countries, the term “white paper” has been used for several decades. The term originated when a shorter version of a “blue book” (a detailed government policy report bound in blue covers) was introduced for wider use. This shorter version was bound in the same white paper as the ones on which the text was written – hence the name “white paper”.  But the use of the term in America and elsewhere is only as recent as the early 1990’s. It was adopted by the IT industry to describe technical documents (as defined above).

A relatively new term is a “video white paper’. This is the same thing as a “white paper” (as in the American sense) with the only difference that it is presented in video format. The information of the white paper is presented not only verbally, but also involves the use of graphics, graphs, and animations.

Do you know of any other definition of “white paper”? How would you describe it?

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Poetry Terms

Today I’ll put together some poetry terms for those of you looking for them or their meanings. There are lots more but it’s not possible to put them all together in one post, so I’ll just give the most important. I hope this will prove to be useful to those of you interested in poetry… but even you’re not interested in poetry, it’s always good to improve your vocabulary, isn’t it?

First off, what are poetry terms? These are the terms used to describe content or structure of a poem.  The terms:

Alliteration: Repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. Seven scientists saw some stars – all the words begin with the same sound, s.

Assonance:  Repetition of the same vowel sound. Suppose Rose goes to Moe’s – all the words have to o sound.

Caesura: A pause or break within a line of poetry.  To err is human,|| to forgive divine (Alexander Pope) – the break is between human and to.

Enjambment: Continuation of a sentence from one line to the next in a verse.

Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now….
(Robert Browning)

Foot: Two or more stressed and/or unstressed syllables that together make up the smallest unit of rhythm in a poem.

Meter: An arrangement in which the stresses occur at equal intervals.

Metrical foot: Two or more syllables with stresses occurring at equal intervals. There are four basic types of metrical feet.

(i) iambic (noun = iamb): an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one – to SWELL the GOURD, and PLUMP the HAzel shells (John Keats)

(ii) trochaic (noun = trochee): a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one – SHOULD you ASK me, WHENCE these STORies (Henry W. Longfellow)

(iii) anapestic (noun = anapest): two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one – Unless SOMEone like YOU cares a WHOLE awful LOT (Dr. Seuss)

(iv) dactylic (noun = dactyl): a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones – THIS is the FORest primEVal, the MURmering PINES and the HEMlocks (Henry W. Longfellow)

Rhyme: Same or similar sounds in two or more words. Town and crown have the same sounds.

Rhythm: Repetition of stressed and unstressed syllables in lines of poetry. I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused, or following…
(Walt Whitman)

Scansion: The process of describing the meter of a poem by marking the stresses in a poem (with a u on an unstressed syllable and a / on a stressed syllable).

Stanza: A division or a unit of a poem formed of two or more lines.

Versification: The system of rhyme and meter in poetry.

Not found the term you’re looking for? Do write in and ask.

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What is Euphemism

“Wisdom is not in words; Wisdom is meaning within words.” ~ Khalil Gibran

 

I have written about how important the choice of words is in writing, and talked about denotation and connotation. Euphemism is another way of choosing the right words.  Properly defined, euphemism is substituting an agreeable or less offensive word or phrase in place of one that may sound rude or offensive to the reader or listener. For example:

  • Passed away for died. Died sounds rather harsh; but when you say passed away, it softens up a bit.
  • Air-sickness bag for a vomit bag. The sound of vomit bag may be nauseating for some people; but using the word air-sickness says what is meant and yet is not so disagreeable.
  • Sanitation worker for garbage man. Garbage man sounds a little derogatory, but sanitation worker gives the worker some respect.
  • Not completely truthful for lied. Saying lied is a little harsh, but not being truthful sounds nicer.
  • Portly for fat. Calling someone fat is rude, but saying someone is portly is polite.
  • Visually impaired for blind. Saying someone is visually impaired is being nice, but saying someone’s blind sounds insensitive.
  • Indisposed for sick. Again – saying someone is indisposed is a nice way of saying someone is sick.
  • Laid off for fired. Fired is a harsh word, but saying laid off is not.
  • Restroom for bathroom/toilet. If you wish to go to the restroom, it doesn’t sound so bad when you’re among people.
  • In reduced circumstances for poor.  Calling someone poor is being a little insensitive, but saying he’s in reduced circumstances is being considerate to the person. 

Euphemisms may also be in the form of abbreviations (BO for body odor), or foreign terms (faux pas for foolish error). Whatever form they’re in, euphemisms are metaphors since they lose their literal meanings. It won’t be wrong to say that using euphemisms is being polite.

 

Do you agree with the use of euphemisms? Or would you rather use the original words?

 

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