How to Nail The Four Main Writing Styles

How to Nail The Four Main Writing Styles

There are many ways to tell a good story, and stories set out to achieve different goals. This is why we talk about different writing styles. Technically, there are four of them—expository, descriptive, narrative, and persuasive writing. Here’s our guide for understanding the differences, as well as a bunch of tips to help you next time you hit the keyboard.

1. Expository—to explain
When we write to explain, we assume the reader knows little to nothing about the subject. Our goal is to educate them. We need to be objective—present the topic and ideas as they are, in simple terms, and give the facts without giving our own opinions.

Some examples are:

  • News articles
  • Journalistic writing
  • Explainers and how-to guides 
  • Research articles 
  • Instruction manuals 


Write down the what/why/who/when/where/how
Pretend you’re telling a friend who is new to the topic. Ask yourself: do they have all the information they need? Would they get it?

Present facts, not opinions
Presenting unbiased information can be tough to master. Try and use neutral language to describe things. For example, to describe something as ‘different’ is neutral, but to say it’s ‘unique’ is more positive, and to say it’s ‘peculiar’ is more negative.

Be specific. Instead of writing “Studies show it’s taking young people way too long to get work after study”, try,  “FYA’s research shows it’s taking young people 2.6 years on average to transition from full-time education to full-time work.” This way, you give readers all the information and leave them to determine whether this is a good or a bad thing, without telling them what you think about it.

Reference trusted sources
Refer to insights from reputable news sources and research reports. Present the facts and findings and let the evidence do the talking.

2. Descriptive—to describe
Descriptive writing is all about painting a clear picture of a place, person, or event in the mind of the reader. We give them the detail about the experience so we evoke strong feelings and emotions from our stories.

Some examples are:

  • Personal essays
  • Creative non-fiction 
  • Biographies 
  • Travel writing 
  • Experiential writing 


Explore the five senses
Give sensory details. Instead of just telling readers how something looks, you could help them understand how it feels, sounds, smells, moves or even tastes.

Use powerful language
Instead of saying you read a language book, you could say “I perused the pages. Practised the words. Struggling to roll my r’s. The sounds fell awkwardly off of my tongue.” Don’t just tell readers what you did, describe what it was like to do it.

Try not to overdo it
It’s a balancing act. You want to give enough for the reader to imagine an image without overwhelming them with adjectives. A little goes a long way.

3. Narrative—to tell a good story
When we think about narrative writing, we tend to think of writing make-believe or fiction stories, but you can apply narrative writing to true stories as well. The key elements are strong character/s, plot, conflict, setting and point of view. Good narratives use these elements to drive dramatic action.

Some examples are:

  • Novels, films and screenplays
  • Poems 
  • Songs
  • Memoirs
  • Short stories


Consider structure
There’s more to a story than a beginning, middle and end, but thinking about it in this simple way can help you organise your narrative into a coherent sequence of events. Try stepping out the key story points first. Who is it? When is it? Where is it? What happens, and in what order? How does it resolve, or not resolve? Establish the milestones and then colour in the detail.

Determine the point of view
Make it clear who’s telling the story. Stories can have multiple characters, and even multiple perspectives, but it’s important that readers know whose eyes they’re meant to be seeing the world through, and when.

4. Persuasive—to convince
Unlike expository writing, persuasive writing is the place for us to be more subjective. We can have an opinion, and bring our points of view and interpretations. We write in this way when we want our readers to take action—to agree with us, and to think, feel or do something.

Some examples are:

  • Opinion editorials or articles—often called op-eds
  • Policy proposals
  • Advertisements and marketing


There’s still a place for facts
Drawing on reputable sources to support your claims enhances the credibility of your ideas and makes your arguments stronger. If it’s appropriate, refer to experts or respected authorities. Use facts or statistics. Where you can prove it, do it!

Appeal to emotions

Your lived experience is powerful. Use a personal story or anecdote to help get the strong response that you’re looking for.

There are definitely times when merging writing styles works. Some of the best writers do, and it’s often at the intersection of these styles that you’ll find your own. By applying these tips and truly thinking about who you’re writing for, and for what purpose, your readers will be increasingly satisfied.