Writing style is the manner of expressing thought in language characteristic of an individual, period, school, or nation. It's defined by the grammatical choices writers make, the importance of adhering to norms in certain contexts and deviating from them in others, the expression of social identity, and the emotional effects of particular devices on audiences.
Beyond the essential elements of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, writing style is the choice of words, sentence structure, and paragraph structure, used to convey the meaning effectively.
The point of good writing style is to:
- Express the message to the reader simply, clearly, and convincingly.
- Keep the reader attentive, engaged, and interested.
- Display the writer's personality.
- Demonstrate the writer's skills, knowledge, or abilities.
General writing principles⚑
Make it pleasant to the reader⚑
Writing is a medium of communication, so avoid introducing elements that push away the reader, such as:
- Spelling mistakes.
- Gender favoring, polarizing, race related, religion inconsiderate, or other unequal phrasing.
- Ugly environment: Present your texts through a pleasant medium such as a mkdocs webpage.
- Write like you talk: Ask yourself, is this the way I'd say this if I were talking to a friend?. If it isn't, imagine what you would say, and use that instead.
- Format errors: If you're writing in markdown, make sure that the result has no display bugs.
- Write short articles: Even though I love Gwern site, I find it daunting most of times. Instead of a big post, I'd rather use multiple well connected articles.
Saying more with less⚑
Never use a long word where a short one will do. Replace words like
really like with
love or other more appropriate words that save space writing and are more meaningful.
Don't use filler words like really.
Be aware of pacing⚑
Be aware of pacing between words and sentences. The sentences ideally should flow into one another. Breaks in form of commas and full steps are important, as they allow for the reader to take a break and absorb the point that you tried to deliver. Try to use less tan 30 words per sentence.
For example, change Due to the fact that to because.
A good piece of writing has a single, sharp, overriding purpose. Every part of the writing, even the digressions, should serve that purpose. Put another way, clarity of the general purpose is an absolute requirement in a good piece of writing.
This observation matters because it's often tempting to let your purpose expand and become vague. Writing a piece about gardens? Hey, why not include that important related thought you had about rainforests? Now you have a piece that's sort of about gardens and sort of about rainforests, and not really about anything. The reader can no longer bond to it.
A complicating factor is that sometimes you need to explore beyond the boundaries of your current purpose. You're writing for purpose A, but your instinct says that you need to explore subject B. Unfortunately, you're not yet sure how subject B fits in. If that's the case then you must take time to explore, and to understand how, if at all, subject B fits in, and whether you need to revise your purpose. This is emotionally difficult. It creates uncertainty, and you may feel as though your work on subject B is wasted effort. These doubts must be resisted.
Avoid using clichés⚑
Clichés prevent readers from visualization, making them an obstacle to creating memorable writing.
Citing the sources⚑
- If it's a small phrase or a refactor, link the source inside the phrase or at the header of the section.
- If it's a big refactor, add it to a references section.
- If it's a big block without editing use admonition quotes
Take all the guidelines as suggestions⚑
All the sections above are guidelines, not rules to follow blindly, I try to adhere to them as much as possible, but if I feel it doesn't apply I ignore them.
- Replace adjectives with data. Nearly all of -> 84% of.
- Remove weasel words.
- Most adverbs are superfluous. When you say "generally" or "usually" you're probably undermining your point and the use of "very" or "extremely" are hyperbolic and breathless and make it easier to regard what you're writing as not serious.
- Examine every word: a surprising number don't serve any purpose.
- While wrapping your content into a story you may find yourself talking about your achievements more than giving actionable advice. If that happens, try to get to the bottom of how you achieved these achievements and break this process down, then focus on the process more than on your personal achievement.
- Set up a system that prompts people to review the material.
- Don't be egocentric, limit the use of
I, use the implied subject instead: It's where I go to -> It's the place to go. I take different actions -> Taking different actions.
- Don't be possessive, use
- If you don't know how to express something use services like deepl.
- Use synonyms instead of repeating the same word over and over.
- Think who are you writing to.
- Use active voice: Active voice ensures that the actors are identified and it generally leaves less open questions. The exception is if you want to emphasize the object of the sentence.
How to end a letter⚑
How you end a letter is important. It’s your last chance to leave the reader with positive feelings about you and the letter you have written. To make the matter more difficult, each different closing phrase has subtle connotations attached to them that you need to know to use them well.
Most formal letter closing options are reserved, but note that there are degrees of warmth and familiarity among the options. Your relationship with the person to whom you’re writing will shape which closing you choose:
- If you don’t know the individual to whom you’re writing, stick with a professional formal closing.
- If you’re writing to a colleague, business connection, or someone else you know well, it’s fine to close your letter less formally.
Above all, your closing should be appropriate. Ideally, your message will resonate instead of your word choice.
TL;DR: You can select from:
Simplest, most useful:
- Yours truly
- Yours sincerely
Slightly more personal:
- Best regards
- Yours respectfully
More personal: Only use when appropriate to the letter's content.
- Warm regards
- Best wishes
- With appreciation
Letter closings to avoid:
- Take Care
The following are letter closings that are appropriate for business and employment related letters.
Sincerely, Regards, Yours truly, and Yours sincerely: These are the simplest and most useful letter closings to use in a formal business setting. These are appropriate in almost all instances and are excellent ways to close a cover letter or an inquiry.
Best regards, Cordially, and Yours respectfully: These letter closings fill the need for something slightly more personal. They are appropriate once you have some knowledge of the person to whom you are writing. You may have corresponded via email a few times, had a face-to-face or phone interview, or met at a networking event.
Warm regards, Best wishes, and With appreciation: These letter closings are also appropriate once you have some knowledge or connection to the person to whom you are writing. Because they can relate back to the content of the letter, they can give closure to the point of the letter. Only use these if they make sense with the content of your letter.
Letter closings to avoid⚑
There are certain closings that you want to avoid in any business letter. Most of these are simply too informal. Some examples of closings to avoid are listed below:
Always, Cheers, Love, Take care, XOXO, Talk soon, See ya, Hugs
Some closings (such as “Love” and “XOXO”) imply a level of closeness that is not appropriate for a business letter.
Rule of thumb: if you would use the closing in a note to a close friend, it’s probably not suitable for business correspondence.
Punctuating Farewell Phrases⚑
When writing your sign-off, it's important to remember to use proper capitalization and punctuation. Only the first word should be capitalized (e.g., Yours truly), and the sign-off should be followed by a comma (or an exclamation mark in some informal settings), not a period.
A P.S. (or postscript) comes after your sign-off and name. It is meant to include material that is supplementary, subordinated, or not vital to your letter. It is best to avoid postscripts in formal writing, as the information may go unnoticed or ignored; in those cases, try to include all information in the body text of the letter.
n casual and personal correspondences, a postscript is generally acceptable. However, try to limit it to include only humorous or unnecessary material.
Letter closings in detail⚑
Sincerely (or sincerely yours) is often the go-to sign off for formal letters, and with good reason. This ending restates the sincerity of your letter's intent; it is a safe choice if you are not overly familiar with the letter's recipient, as it's preferable to use a sign-off that is both common and formal in such a situation.
Ending your letter with best, all the best, all best, or best wishes indicates that you hope the recipient experiences only good things in the future. Although it is not quite as formal as sincerely, it is still acceptable as a polite, formal/semi-formal letter ending, proper for business contacts as well as friends.
Quite like the previous sign-off, best regards expresses that you are thinking of the recipient with the best of feelings and intentions. Despite its similarity to best, this sign-off is a little more formal, meant for business letters and unfamiliar contacts. A semi-formal variation is warm regards, and an even more formal variation is simply regards.
Speak to you soon⚑
Variations to this farewell phrase include see you soon, talk to you later, and looking forward to speaking with you soon. These sign-offs indicate that you are expecting to continue the conversation with your contact. It can be an effective ending to a letter or email when confirming or planning a specific date for a face-to-face meeting.
Although these endings can be used in either formal or casual settings, they typically carry a more formal tone. The exception here is talk to you later, which errs on the more casual side.
This is an effective ending to a letter when you are sincerely expressing gratitude. If you are using it as your standard letter ending, however, it can fall flat; the reader will be confused if there is no reason for you to be thanking them. Try to use thanks (or variations such as thanks so much, thank you, or thanks!) and its variations only when you think you haven't expressed your gratitude enough; otherwise, it can come across as excessive.
Furthermore, when you're issuing an order, thanks might not be the best sign-off because it can seem presumptuous to offer thanks before the task has even been accepted or begun.
Having no sign-off for your letter is a little unusual, but it is acceptable in some cases. Omitting the sign-off is most appropriately used in cases where you are replying to an email chain. However, in a first email, including neither a sign-off nor your name will make your letter seem to end abruptly. It should be avoided in those situations or when you are not very familiar with the receiver.
This is where the line between formal and informal begins to blur. Yours truly implies the integrity of the message that precedes your name, but it also implies that you are related to the recipient in some way.
This ending can be used in various situations, when writing letters to people both familiar and unfamiliar to you; however, yours truly carries a more casual and familiar tone, making it most appropriate for your friends and family. It's best used when you want to emphasize that you mean the contents of your letter.
Take care is also a semi-formal way to end your letter. Like the sign-off all the best, this ending wishes that no harm come to the reader; however, like ending your letter with yours truly, the word choice is less formal and implies that the writer is at least somewhat familiar with the reader.
Cheers is a lighthearted ending that expresses your best wishes for the reader. Due to its association with drinking alcohol, it's best to save this sign-off for cases where you are familiar with the reader and when the tone is optimistic and casual. Also note that because cheers is associated with British English, it may seem odd to readers who speak other styles of English and are not very familiar with the term.
Avoid there is at the start of the sentence⚑
Almost never begin a sentence with “It is...” or “There is/are...”. These are examples of unnecessary verbiage that shift the focus from the sentence point.
Writing style books⚑
After you start writing every day professionally, you will see that you will face some hard problems that will haunt you every time you sit down to write.
The simplest way to overcome these issues and adopt a philosophy of writing that will make you a more professional, resilient, and wiser writer is to read the books about writing that masters of the craft have published.
After reviewing 1, 2 and 3 I've come to the following list of books I'd like to read.
The elements of style⚑
A classic book on grammar, style, and punctuation. If you feel like you need to improve any of those three aspects of your writing, then this book is a great start.
With only 85 pages it covers both the grammar basics, rules that affect the style composition, writing toolbox description, and styling recommendations.
On writing well⚑
They say this book is specially useful to find one's style, develop it, polish it and learn how to write with it.
The author doesn't get too philosophical or cutesy in his concepts, neither he gets too technical. In a way, it provides the right balance between The Elements of Style and Bird by Bird. Reading the book feels like you’re being mentored by a wise, highly experienced writer.
Bird by bird⚑
Supposedly the most touching, poetic, and psychological book of the collection.
The first part of the book lays around the life of Anne Lamott, a relatively popular fiction writer, who happens to have had a quite interesting life. Just like On Writing (the first book mentioned in here), the author manages to share enough of her life to enlighten the story and thesis of the book.
The author explains what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be one, and how you can develop a narrative for a fiction book or story.
It looks like it's a real pleasure to read it at the same time as it’s still a wonderful experience that will help you understand how you can overcome your own fears, doubts, and pains of writing.
Whether you want to write fiction or nonfiction, Bird by Bird provides a beautiful reading experience that will teach you what it takes to be a writer and how to find your demons.
It's a book written by Stephen King that even though I haven't read any of his books I know he is known for being a specialist in capturing the reader. I don't know if it's going to be too much oriented to writing novels, but it looks promising.
I'll leave it there for now, but keep on reading on Ivan Kreimer's article for more suggestions.