Journalistic writing focuses on the now. It is about informing the reader of what is happening.
Journalistic writing focuses on the now. It is about informing the reader of what is happening.

Recently I had a conversation with one of my students which ended with that student telling me that he/she shouldn’t be graded down for writing in a non-academic way because academic writing just wasn’t her style of writing. I’m sure that a lot of professors have had similar conversations over the years, and all been similarly annoyed with the confusion between writing styles (see voice), and writing styles (see type). For instance,  one might write in a very witty, sarcastic, nonchalant style (voice) and apply this to many styles (type) of writing. However, one cannot substitute a journalistic or personal style (type) of writing for an academic style (type) of write and expect to get away with it.

Academic writing focuses on the problem. It is about convincing the reader of a particular position through the use of logic and evidence.
Academic writing focuses on the problem. It is about convincing the reader of a particular position through the use of logic and evidence.

For instance, in journalistic writing the first person is not used, but quotes are heavily used, but they are generally attributed, not cited or referenced. The point of a piece is to distribute information. In personal writing the first person is often primarily used, and quotes/sources are generally not used. The point of a piece is to express feeling, opinion, desire, or to update on the minutia of life. In fictional writing the first person may or may not be used (depended on perspective), and while sources are heavily used (seriously, if you think you can write fiction without doing research, think again), they are not quoted, cited, referenced, or generally recognized in any way. The purpose of a piece is to tell a story, make a point, and entertain. In academic writing the third person is universally used, and sources are heavily used, cited, and referenced, but only rarely quoted. The point of a piece is to convince the reader of a particular position through the presentation of logic and evidence. These are all very different kinds of writing, but the witty, sarcastic, nonchalant style (voice) can be effectively used in all of them.

There are as many different styles (voices) of writing as there are people that write, and no style (voice) is necessarily right or wrong. However, there are only a certain number of styles (types) of writing (e.g. academic, journalistic, personal, fictional, inspirational, etc) of writing, and each one has certain expectations of form that must be met for it to be considered good. For instance, if a fictional piece is boring, then it is not good, remember one of the purposes of fictional writing is to entertain. An academic piece, on the other hand, can be exceptionally boring, and still be a good piece, because the purpose is not to entertain, but to support through logic and evidence. When you sit down to write something, take a moment to consider the style (type) of writing that you are planning to use. If you’re writing for a newspaper, then don’t write like you were writing a letter. If you’re writing a letter, then don’t write like you were writing an academic paper. However, you also must be aware of the styles (voices) that you are capable of writing in effectively. If you can’t pull off a witty, sarcastic style, then don’t try. Find the voice or voices that are yours (some people can write in more than one voice), and master it. Use it effectively, and don’t be afraid to adapt it to the various styles (types) of writing that you do. Remember that differences in form don’t have to render you mute, they just require a little adjustment.

4 thoughts on “Different Kinds of Writing

  1. I would argue that boring is never appropriate and is a function of the author’s inability to communicate in a meaningful way in any type of communication. Boring is, in essence, the very antithesis of communication, it shuts down communication. It is therefore outside of the definitions you are using.

    1. Wayne, when I say boring I mean boring as in unentertaining, not boring as in uninteresting. For instance, many people would argue that a good documentary on WW2 is boring, because it is not entertaining and ‘action-packed’. It is informative, educational, interesting, but focused on facts and evidence. The goal of such a documentary is to provide the viewer with information, and not to keep the viewer entertained. In this way it is boring, but not in a pejorative sense. This is exactly what academic writing should be.

  2. Take a lesson from Gail Sheehey (Sp) and Passages. Yes, she stole the research of two research psychologists, and lost either 70% or 80% of her money from the book to them, but literally sold millions world wide. Each of them later published their research, one sold maybe 20,000 copies of a reasonably readable book, the other maybe sold 1,000 copies of his book to libraries. If anyone has read it through they are extremely determined! It is literally unreadable. A journalist who knew how to write made them and their work known worldwide, without her they would only be known to other lifespan psychologists.

    Entertainment alone is not adequate, but the ability to transmit information in an interesting and engaging way is necessary to be effective. Granted, writing about psychology and theology is different than, say, theories of math or cosmology. However, Freeman Dyson’s Infinite in All Directions is an engaging look at cosmology.

    My argument is simply that anything can be written well and readable or written badly and ignored.

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