Developing your own writing style

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2004, 12:00am

In any kind of writing, it is important to pay attention to what you want to say - and how you say it. This is one way of developing a good style as a writer.

You can also achieve this by observing how other people write, or by thinking carefully as you put pen to paper.

Good style is partly about choosing your words carefully. Wise students will keep a notebook to jot down any new English words they come across, so that they can be used at a later date. Good style is also about punctuation, and how you use it to make your writing interesting.

Punctuation has only one purpose.

It helps readers follow the meaning of whatever you are writing. It gives shape and structure to your words so that they can be understood.

Let us examine the basic structure of a sentence in order to give you an idea about developing your own style.

A full-stop is the most important punctuation mark. It comes at the end of a sentence. Think of a sentence as a group of words that make sense. Thus, 'Please close the.' is clearly not a sentence. It is incomplete and does not make sense. We do not know what the person is supposed to close. The correct version might be: 'Please close the window.'

Listen carefully to someone reading aloud. You can hear the voice rising and then falling at the end of each sentence. The best way of checking where you need a full-stop is to read your work aloud to yourself or to a friend. Listen for places where a complete statement is made and a full-stop is needed.

Once you have mastered simple sentences, you can start to develop your style by concentrating on more complex and interesting structures. Here are examples of some short sentences:

'The runners gathered near the starting line. Their hair was blowing in the wind. Suddenly the starter's gun sounded. They were off.' This is correct English, but it is not very interesting. Read the sentences aloud. They do not flow.

Here are some ways to improve it.

We could create a participle clause, separated from the main clause by a comma. The participle clause could come first:

'Their hair blowing in the wind, the runners gathered near the starting line.'

Or it can come second:

'The runners gathered near the starting line, their hair blowing in the wind.'

Notice that the verb in a participle clause is not finite; it cannot take a subject. That is why the clause must be separated with a comma and not a full-stop.

Another way of joining two sentences is to use a conjunction: 'Suddenly the starter's gun sounded, and they were off.'

Another very useful punctuation mark is the semi-colon; it can be used to join two sentences that are closely linked:

'Suddenly the starter's gun sounded; they were off.'

The sound of the starter's gun is closely followed by runners setting off down the track, so the semi-colon is appropriate.

A semi-colon is a stronger punctuation mark than a comma. Look at these two examples:

'A runner needs to wear shorts, vest, sweat-bands and running shoes.'

The items in the list are mainly single words, so commas are strong enough to separate them.

'A runner needs to do the following things: train hard; eat a sensible diet; get plenty of rest before important races.'

This time the items in the list are phrases, so we use semi-colons to separate them.

Take risks by experimenting with different punctuation marks. It does not matter if you make mistakes as long as you learn from them. That way you will develop your own style in the long term.