The unique element of style makes it subjective from author to author. Every author creates their own sense of style through years of practice and honing their craft. In a handout about style from the University of North Carolina, the writer identifies common issues seen in a writer’s style. These issues usually refer to improper word choices, “wordy” and often “awkward” sentence structures. What most authors don’t realize is that simplicity can often be the most important attribute of style when presenting their work to their audience.
Keep it simple:
“First, remember that your goal in academic writing is not to sound intelligent, but to get your intelligent point across” (UNC). This is true of all writing styles and genre. Whether the audience is geared toward academic readers, or those simply interested in a good story, keeping the wording and style simple allows the writer to connect with a broader range of readers. Using language that is too complex for the average reader risks alienating the audience, or losing them altogether. If they have to stop every five minutes to look up a word referenced in the story, the enjoyment will wear off, and the reader will eventually lose interest.
Every writer has encountered, or will encounter, this note on their critiques at least once in their lives. Even while speaking, we tend to use more words than are necessary to get our point across (UNC). These “filler” words detract from the message of the story and often leave readers skimming through pages in search of the real meaning. “In writing, these filler words and phrases become more obvious and act as delays in getting the reader to your point. If you have enough delays in your sentence, your readers might get frustrated” (UNC). The goal is to make sharper and cleaner sentences. This does not mean that the sentences have to be devoid of the occasional embellishment. Or that they should be as simplistic as: War is bad. Just get to the point, and keep it simple.
Your Word thesaurus is not your friend:
At a young age, writers learn that repetition can kill a story as quickly as bad writing. In our efforts to circumvent this issue, we tend to refer to our thesaurus to use alternate synonyms for the same word. According to the UNC handout about style, “Don’t ever do so without looking up those words to make sure you know exactly what they mean. And don’t blindly accept the recommendations of your word processing program’s thesaurus.” Though the words may be similar in meaning, the tone they set may vary entirely. One example of this is in the sentence: “He could fathom no alternative.” In this sentence the word “fathom” is synonymous with comprehend. However, the word thesaurus also provides alternatives of “sound,” “measure,” and “probe.” Neither option would be appropriate for the sentence since they would detract from its meaning. Though using synonyms for words can take away from the repetition in the story, it can also take away from its overall presentation. Again, if the story loses its clarity to “fancy” wording, the main point also suffers.