The world is saturated with readable content. With the advent of the internet came millions of blogs, posts, and online articles to compete for our attention in addition to the millions of novels, non-fiction books, essays, and journals that have been around for forever. Although there are countless texts out there, spanning cultures, languages, and centuries, there are actually only four types of writing styles. Pop quiz: what are the four types of writing styles? What even is a writing style? How do you know what writing style to use and when to use each one?

Well, the pop quiz just turned into a guided lesson. Let’s have a closer look at each of the four styles and go through some examples. We’ll take a deep dive into the definitions and appropriate use cases of each, and maybe have some fun along the way.

Writing Styles

Father and son dogs fishing on a pier, discussing writing styles.
It's not what you say, it's how you say it. (Source: YourDictionary)

You’re on a long journey. Up ahead: a bridge. As you get closer, a troll scrambles out from beneath the rotted wooden planks. He points a gnarled finger at you and screeches, “Before you cross, I do implore: list the writing styles four!”

The odds of this happening are low, but you never know. Just in case you ever find yourself in this situation, here is the answer, laid out. The four types of writing styles are narrative, persuasive, descriptive, and expository. Each of these styles has a particular purpose, so it’s important to match up your topic and goals with the correct style in order to properly convey your message.

Narrative Writing

The narrative writing style refers to any writing that tells a story, especially from the perspective of a character or personality.

Narrative writing can be fiction or nonfiction, as long as it tells a story from a specific point of view with a clear progression of events. This writing style typically uses a variety of narrative literary devices and writing techniques. The most common narrative devices include:

  • Dialogue or excerpts of talking or thinking from characters
  • First or second person perspectives
  • Discussing the details of certain events in the order that they occur
  • Describing a setting or character before describing the events surrounding it
  • A clear beginning, middle, and end

Although narrative writing is usually chronological, the writing itself can be split into sections out of order, as long as the content in each separate section is still chronological. While chronologically written narratives are the most common, there are exceptions.

Quentin Tarantino’s screenplays are some of the most notorious examples of non-linear storytelling, including films such as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and The Hateful Eight. Although the events in these films aren’t presented sequentially as a whole, each chapter of the script is told from beginning to end, making them all examples of narrative writing.

There are also many examples of nonfiction narrative writing. When a particular person writes about the events throughout their lifetime, that collection of stories is called a “memoir.” Memoirs can serve as leisure material, or as first hand accounts of important events. Famous memoirs include A Promised Land by Barack Obama and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.
Narrative nonfiction doesn’t have to be memoir. Plenty of narratives exist from the perspective of biographers and third party writers. One of the most famous examples of this is Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand.

Narrative Writing Examples

Any story written down by someone is an example of narrative writing. These stories can take the form of the following:

  • Novels
  • Short stories
  • Scripts for plays, TV shows, and movies
  • Memoirs and biographies

Most books and television are considered narrative, with the exceptions of guidebooks and reference books, and documentaries and news, most of which would be considered expository.

Persuasive Writing

A dog behind a fence with the text "Puppy Mill Dogs Need You Today."
We can't discuss persuasive advertising and not include ASPCA commercials. (Source: ASPCA)

The persuasive writing style is defined as any writing that attempts to convince the reader into agreeing with the writer’s opinion. Persuasive writing is often used in order to get an audience to think or behave in a certain way. Word choice is incredibly important in persuasive writing, with authors oftentimes using emotionally-charged diction to get the reader to literally feel what they are attempting to convey through words.

Persuasive writing uses three different rhetorical devices in order to convince the reader to buy into a goal:

  1. Logic (Logos) - This refers to any evidence used to support a specific idea or line of thinking. Logic explains why a particular conclusion makes sense, because it uses facts and reasoning to prove a certain point.
  2. Credibility (Ethos) - Good persuasive writers back up their writing with trustworthy sources. When a famous celebrity writes an Instagram caption endorsing a product, they are using their known reputation to persuade their followers into buying something or using a service. Other forms of credibility persuasion include advertisements that say “9/10 doctors recommend,” or medical articles that are signed by someone with an “MD.”
  3. Emotion (Pathos) - In order to tug on readers’ heart strings, persuasive writing often includes text that is designed to elicit an emotional response. If you’ve ever seen a brand say “20% of proceeds go to charity,” you have witnessed emotional persuasive writing.

Persuasive Writing Examples

The most common example of persuasive writing is commercial advertising. Anytime text is written with the intent to persuade someone into buying a product or service, it’s a persuasive writing example. Every ad in the paper or pop-up on your mobile device uses persuasive writing.

Persuasive writing also exists outside of the marketing world. Usually, there is a “call to action” somewhere in the text, urging readers to make a behavioral choice. Examples include the following:

  • Public service announcements by government agencies or public organizations
  • Essays with a defensible thesis and line of reasoning
  • Op-eds in newspapers
  • Speeches by politicians, especially pertaining to the outcome of an election
  • Proposal letters for jobs, projects, grants, relationships, etc

Descriptive Writing

The descriptive writing style refers to writing that recounts the qualities of a person, place, or thing. As it sounds, descriptive writing is used to describe its subject.

Descriptive writing differs from expository writing in that it can include opinions and relatives. Journal entries are a great source of descriptive writing that include both factual and opinionated writing. Someone writing in a journal might describe their day (the sky was blue, it was 84 degrees, the neighbor across the street was taking out their garbage) or share their thoughts on the events of the day (it was a beautiful day, it was too hot, the neighbor was rude and did not wave).

When descriptive writing is the focal point of a written text, it is called a poem. When the words of a poem are set to music, they are called lyrics. This means that any poem or song lyric can be an example of descriptive writing.

A descriptive poem with a drawing of a funny man on a funny horse.
Backward Hill sounds...interesting. (Source: Shel Silverstein)

Descriptive Writing Examples

Descriptive writing is usually much briefer than the other types of writing, and can be found sprinkled into every written work. Examples of descriptive writing can be found in the following:

  • Journal Entries
  • Product descriptions
  • Menu items
  • PoemsExcerpts of longer text, such as narrative, persuasive, and expository writing.

Expository Writing

The expository writing style can be described as any text that is written with the purpose of informing an audience about a particular subject (hint: this article is expository).

Writing is considered expository whenever information is presented in a matter-of-fact way. This kind of text doesn’t have any personal opinion, storyline, or persuasive goal. Instead, the feature of expository writing is facts; these can be graphs, data, cited references, or quotes from real people.

Expository writing covers all written statements informing a reader about a certain topic. That means that any non-fiction book, report, or informational essay you’ve ever written or read is an example of expository writing. It also means that many of the observations you make or phrases you use are considered expository.

Expository Writing Examples

This type of writing is often very technical. Here are some examples:

  • Step-by step-guides
  • Encyclopedias
  • Cookbooks
  • Infographics
  • News articles
  • Presentations
  • Scientific journals
  • School textbooks

Much of the text you encounter in your day-to-day life can be considered expository, which makes it one of the most popular writing styles around. It’s the menu at a restaurant, the manual for your car, the food labels at the grocery store. Any factual writing without bias is expository.

Final Thoughts on Writing Styles

Now when the troll comes calling, you’ll have the answer to his writing styles riddle. Writing purposefully in a particular style can give your writing more intent and strength, and identifying the different styles in day-to-day life can be a fun game to play. The more you know!