The 4 major writing styles all language students need to perfect

female student writing

When planning a writing assignment in class or as homework, it’s important to ensure that your language students practise different kinds of writing styles. After all, constantly writing creative flights of imagination does not prepare students for writing a business email or a formal letter of job / visa application.

Writing skills are, of course, a key element in building students’ fluency and a useful indicator in demonstrating students’ progress. Importantly, the thought processes that go into writing are different from those needed to speak. Students can also learn lots about how to structure and organise their thoughts in order to communicate effectively through their voice or text.

Opinions vary on exactly how many different writing styles there are, as some are quite similar. But for the purpose of this blog post we’re going to focus on the four main styles: descriptive, expository, narrative and persuasive. Each genre has its own specific purpose and, of course, they require different skills. We’ll look at the different styles in turn and consider how you could develop them in your own language classroom.


Descriptive writing

As the name suggests, descriptive writing requires the author to create a detailed description of an object, a place or person. This is intended to create a vivid picture in the mind of the reader and to engage them more deeply in the text.

Learners should be encouraged to include lots of relevant details so that the reader feels completely part of the story. These tend to involve different senses so that we can feel the heat of the sun on a beach or smell the coffee in a New York cafe. The ambition here is to transport the reader into the story, rather than just describing a situation or place in minute detail. “Show, don’t tell” is a great maxim for students to always bear in mind.

Cutting out obvious descriptions is one of the tips in an excellent Masterclass blog post on descriptive writing. It also highlights the importance of using surprising words to keep the reader interested and the power of figurative language techniques including onomatopoeia and hyperbole.

Descriptive writing is most often used in works of fiction, but it can also be effective in non-fiction settings too. Encourage your students to practise their descriptive writing skills through comics, poems, stories and scripts for films / shows.


Expository writing

This form of writing style aims to expose facts – the writing should explain and educate its reader, rather than trying to make them laugh or change their opinion. This therefore includes instructional guides, textbooks, news stories and pieces of business writing.

Most pieces of journalism are also considered as examples of expository writing, but be wary of opinion pieces and political commentary, who do not try to provide the reader with unbiased facts or information. In fact, this blog post could therefore be considered as an example of expository writing!

At its heart, expository writing is highly factual and should contain examples and evidence to reinforce the writer’s argument. This could include survey data, quotes or references to books and relevant articles. Graphs and tables can also be included and can often provide a useful picture of complicated information.

Good examples of expository writing follow a logical format and tend to walk their reader through an argument step-by-step. The writing should be clear and easy to follow, avoiding complicated terms and unnecessary jargon.

Students can practise their expository writing by creating presentations, news reports and essays. But why not get them to write a recipe, an instruction manual for a piece of technology or compare and contrast two points of view on a particular topic?


Narrative writing

We Are Teachers defines narrative writing as “writing that is characterised by a main character in a setting who engages with a problem or event in a significant way.” It also provides a helpful guide to narrative writing instruction adding that “narrative writing encompasses a lot: author’s purpose, tone, voice, structure, in addition to teaching sentence structure, organisation, and word choice.”

Narrative writing is really all about storytelling. As such, narrative writing can be fiction or nonfiction (e.g biographies or travel writing), but there are a number of different narrative structures that writers can deploy. It’s important therefore for students to practise and understand linear (ie chronological) vs. non-linear narratives. They should also be encouraged to try writing a narrative piece from different perspectives – in the third person by the author or from the first person as a character within the story itself.

Whether students use these guides to write fan fiction or personal narratives, there are usually 7 key elements that they need to perfect to deliver a compelling piece of narrative writing. These are:

  • Characterisation
  • Setting 
  • Theme
  • Plot
  • Atmosphere
  • Figurative language and appropriate literary devices
  • Point of View (first person, second person or third person)


Persuasive writing

The term persuasive writing refers to any written work whose purpose is to convince the reader of the writer’s point of view. As such it relies on a different set of skills to the other styles outlined above – it’s not enough to simply inform the reader, they must be persuaded that you are right and their original perspective might be wrong.

According to Reading Rocket: “Persuasive writing is a form of nonfiction writing that encourages careful word choice, the development of logical arguments, and a cohesive summary.” The importance of logic in persuasive writing is often underplayed, yet without a rational argument underpinning it, the piece will not achieve its ambition. Use facts and relevant examples to build a case.

These should then be backed up with emotion and sympathy. The persuasive communication needs to talk to the audience’s heart as well as their minds. It can therefore be a good idea to encourage students to focus on topics / themes that they feel personally passionate about.

Finally, it is important to distinguish between persuasive and argumentative writing styles / tasks. The former focus only on the author’s perspective and tend to be more conversational in tone to build a relationship between writer and reader. Whereas argumentative pieces are usually more fact-based and consider / discuss both sides of the topic in question.

Examples of persuasive writing include advertisements, pieces of direct mail, opinion columns, film and concert reviews, fundraising letters and political propaganda.


How Sanako Connect supports students to develop core language skills?

Language educators are easily able to set students tasks that test their writing skills directly in Sanako Connect. This unique cloud-based language teaching platform is highly flexible and enables teachers to upload stimulus material that students can respond to with detailed written answers of any length. It also helps teachers to create quizzes quickly so that they can test students’ spelling and grasp of key grammatical concepts.

There are a wide variety of content authoring tools in Sanako Connect. Teachers can easily create any kind of exercise they need for their lessons. They can also freely mix and match stimulus materials (audio, video, text, presentations, 3rd party websites and content) to give students ample opportunity to demonstrate the writing styles and techniques outlined above.


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