Becoming a stronger writer, for work or for fun, isn’t as simple as just sitting down and putting words to paper. There are actually different types of writing that serve different purposes, and understanding the goal you’re trying to achieve—and the technique that will best serve it—will make your work stronger.
Read on to learn more about the five types of writing styles, when you should use each one, and how to improve your skills no matter which of the different types of writing you want to do.
The 5 Types of Writing Styles and Why You Should Master Each
1. Narrative Writing
Narrative writing is storytelling at its most basic: it’s all about sharing something that happens to a character. It can be an epic tale or a small anecdote; it can span years of time or a few minutes; it can be fact or fiction.
Narrative writing uses many of the most common elements of storytelling, such as plot, character, setting, conflict, emotion, and a core message you’re trying to get across. There are also tried-and-true story archetypes or narrative structures you can use to shape your narrative writing, such as coming of age, rags to riches, or the hero’s journey.
While narrative writing can take a lot of forms, one thing is always true: You should be taking the reader on a journey with a beginning, middle, and end. Even if you’re just telling the story of a funny incident that happened to you yesterday, your character should start somewhere, run into some sort of conflict or interesting experience, and then ultimately reach a resolution.
When to Use Narrative Writing
Narrative writing is most commonly used in fiction and creative writing, but it can also be used in nonfiction to help make true stories more compelling to your reader. Whatever you’re writing, the narrative style is worth mastering because people tend to connect best with stories. For instance, you might use narrative writing in:
- Novels and short stories
- Creative essays
- Feature stories
- Presentations or speeches
Examples of Narrative Writing
Pick up any of your favorite novels and you’re sure to find narrative writing, but here are some great examples on the web, all of which are recommended reading by writer Noah Milligan in his Skillshare class on writing short stories:
- “Disobedience” by Noah Milligan
- “Wounding Radius” by Constance Squires
- “You Are Going to Be a Good Man” by George McCormick
2. Descriptive Writing
Descriptive writing involves capturing every detail of the place, person, or scene you’re writing about. The goal is to really immerse the reader in the experience, making them feel like they are there.
When trying to achieve a descriptive writing style, think of it as painting a picture with your words. What can you say to help the reader truly envision the subject in their mind’s eye? This usually involves crafting vivid descriptions using all five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. But it could also involve use of simile and metaphor to evoke a mood or feeling that’s too hard to capture with physical descriptors. This can help elevate your writing from a simple description to something that connects with others on a deeper level.
According to Skillshare teacher Kathy Fish, descriptive writing is about more than just making your story pretty. “Great description accomplishes four things. It immerses the reader and gives them a ‘felt experience.’ It also establishes, enhances, or changes the tone of the story. It can compel the reader forward into the story, especially if you include something that’s surprising or unexpected into your description. It can give the reader a sense of the internal state of your character.”
When to Use Descriptive Writing
Descriptive writing is most often in creative writing and can be used along with narrative writing to build scene and setting. It can occasionally be seen used in more formal writing to help explain an idea more deeply or get the reader to emotionally connect with the story you’re telling. Some examples of where you might use descriptive writing include:
- Poems or song lyrics
- Fiction, such as novels or short stories
- Copywriting, such as when describing a product or travel destination
- Narrative nonfiction, such as memoirs
Examples of Descriptive Writing
To see descriptive writing in action, check out some of this recommended reading from Kathy Fish’s Skillshare class on how to write descriptively:
- “Syndication” by Allegra Hyde
- “The Sea Urchin” by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
- “Summer Scalping; Scarecrows” by Len Kuntz, Storyglossia
3. Persuasive Writing
Persuasive writing is all about getting your point across. The goal is to share your opinion in a thoughtful way—or, even better, to actually convince the reader of a viewpoint or idea. Whether you have a strong stance on an issue or need to inspire people to take action towards a cause, persuasive writing is the way to do it.
Of course, you can’t expect to simply state your viewpoint and have everyone convinced—you need to effectively back it up to bring the reader over to your side. There several main types of evidence in writing you can use when trying to persuade, including:
- Statistical evidence, such as hard facts or studies
- Anecdotal evidence, such as personal experiences or interviews
- Testimonial evidence, such as quotes from experts in the subject
- Textual evidence, such as passages from books or primary sources
Whatever evidence you use, it’s often best to keep emotions at bay in persuasive writing. While sharing a bit of your personal story can help build a compelling argument, too much emotion could cloud your key points and turn the reader off. Instead, try and think from the reader’s point of view and ask yourself: What are the most important things I could say to help convince them?
When to Use Persuasive Writing
Persuasive writing is often found in nonfiction and is almost never used in fiction. It’s particularly worth mastering if you do any kind of business writing—even just drafting emails to your colleagues!—since clearly convincing people of your ideas or point of view can be so valuable at work. You’ll also see persuasive writing used in:
- Speeches or presentations
- Copywriting for conversion
- Sales writing
- Cover letters
- Letters of recommendation
Example of Persuasive Writing
For some examples of persuasive writing, check out this suggested reading from author Sara Eckel’s class on writing persuasive essays:
- “Smart, Educated and Skilled—But Stuck at Home” by Kavita Krishnan
- “Why I Love Political Canvassing” by Sara Eckel
- “Many of the Soldiers Securing Our Border Are Immigrants Who Are Proud to Defend the U.S.” by Adebayo Adeleke
4. Expository Writing
Expository writing exists to explain a subject or inform about a particular topic area. The goal is simply to teach the reader something.
Expository writing should aim to answer any questions a reader might have about a subject: think about the classic who, what, why, when, how questions. You want to lay everything out clearly, avoiding any jargon or overly technical language that may confuse people. Try to approach expository writing from a beginner’s mindset to make your piece as useful as possible.
Most importantly, keep your emotions and opinions about a subject out of it. Unlike persuasive writing, expository writing shouldn’t have an angle or agenda—just the facts.
When to Use Expository Writing
Learning how to write in this style is valuable if you ever need to teach through writing, even if that’s just training your colleague on a particular process. While historically expository writing was mostly considered an academic style, you can now see it all over the web, with content marketing blogs and how-to articles teaching readers how to master all manner of skills. For instance, you’ll see expository writing in:
- How-to or “explainer” articles
- Help center articles, FAQ pages, or other copy explaining how something works
- Technical or business writing
- Training materials
Examples of Expository Writing
This blog post is a classic example of expository writing—it’s here to share the facts and teach you something! Beyond that, here are a few more places to find expository writing:
- Google “how to do” anything and read the articles that come up.
- Vox “explainer” articles
5. Creative Writing
As with any artistic medium, the rules are really only there to be broken—and creative writing is any writing that exists outside of the styles above, or even combines the styles in surprising new ways. The goal of creative writing is really to find new ways to tell stories that can surprise and delight readers.
When it comes to creative writing, you can let yourself literally rewrite the rules of what great writing can be. You could try a new format or structure that you haven’t seen before. You could bring other languages or multimedia elements into your work. Let yourself have fun with it!
When to Use Creative Writing
The purpose of creative writing is really for you to experiment with your craft! Here are some ideas of where you might see creative writing:
Examples of Creative Writing
If you’re looking for inspiration for your own creative writing, here are a few places to explore the unique ways other writers are pushing the boundaries:
Build a Habit to Practice Writing
The Writer’s Toolkit: 6 Steps to a Successful Writing Habit