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7.4 Perspectives on Style

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

–Gore Vidal, American writer

Prescription and description litter these pages and others. Some writers tell you how to write: how your writing should look, sound, and feel. These writers prescribe rules (writer’s handbooks are their bibles). Should you follow them? Prescription can be limiting. In some instances, it may be profitable or necessary to follow a formula (when writing a legal document or a theme for your fifth grade teacher, for example). It is necessary to learn the rules, if only to break them. Rules are not static, however. They evolve. Rules are added, changed, omitted. Current fashion is the only certainty.

Other writers describe how text is actually written. They analyze past and present text, highlighting similarities, differences, and respective efficiency. They define goals and purpose. It may be purposeful to apply rules, yet at other times it may not. But do not allow yourself to become limited by prescription.

Examine your goal and determine the best approach to reach it.

Why discuss style in a section on editing? As you write, you make choices. As you edit, you examine the effectiveness of those choices. Some choices are more effective than others and may reinforce your message. It all depends on your goal, your purpose, and your audience. Are you writing a birthday greeting or a dissertation? An instant message or a public address? Your choices determine your text’s effectiveness; they help relate meaning. As you can imagine, there are as many perspectives on style as there are available topics for writing. The following is an attempt to present some of those perspectives.



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Expression and Inquiry by Christopher Manning; Sally Pierce; and Melissa Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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