We see writing wherever we go, but is all writing the same? Of course not. There are different types of writing styles for different situations, and knowing how and where to best use them is an important step in becoming a better writer. 

But what are the most common types of writing, and how are they different from each other? In this article, we’ll go through different types of writing, how they’re used, and why writers use one writing style over another. We’ll also go through different types of literature examples to give you some ideas on how to put together your next writing masterpiece, whether you’re learning how to write a short story or your first speech.

person sitting on chair writing in a notebook

Poetry vs. prose

When it comes to writing, one big dividing line is poetry and prose. Poetry is a type of writing that expresses ideas through the sounds and rhythms of words. Poems are divided into verses and, sometimes, groups of verses called stanzas.

What is poetry?

Early poetry was quite formulaic. That meant that poets needed to follow very clear rules about how a poem should look and read. Epic poetry, narrative poetry, limericks, and haikus are examples of poetic forms that follow strict rules. And if you’ve ever read a sonnet by Shakespeare, you know that learning to write sonnet poetry is its own special skill. 

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Modern poetry is less strict about following rules. But while modern poetic forms such as free verse and blank verse may not look like the poetry we’re used to, they still use poetic devices, such as a rhythm and beats, to emphasize certain words and thoughts.

What is prose?

Prose, on the other hand, is simply any writing that isn’t poetry. Novels, essays, short stories, news articles, and research reports are all examples of prose. Prose is typically divided into five common types of writing: expository, narrative, persuasive, descriptive, and creative.

5 different types of writing styles

1. Expository writing

The purpose of expository writing is to explain a topic or subject to the reader. Expository writers often aim to answer six simple questions about the topic: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

After readers finish an expository piece, they should be able to understand the facts about a topic. Expository writers shouldn’t include their own personal views and opinions about the topic, but rather, they should allow readers to form their own opinions based on objective information. 

Expository writing can be tricky because the writer needs to know who the readers might be. For example, someone asked you to write an expository piece about how a computer works. If you knew that you were writing for children, your explanation would be much simpler than if it were for adults. And if you knew that you were writing for professional computer engineers, you would use many more technical words in your writing. That’s the goal of expository writing — to explain something in a way that your readers can understand.

Examples of expository writing include:

2. Narrative writing

If you’re writing your first book, then you probably want to focus on narrative writing. The goal of narrative writing is to tell people what happened somewhere or to someone. Narrative writing can be objective if the writer describes a simple timeline of events. But readers often love to learn about how people feel as events unfold. The chain of events within a narrative is called a plot when it’s in a novel or short story.

Narrative writing is usually organized in time. In other words, events that happen earlier in the narrative come first. But some writers, especially novelists, like to change when the readers find out about certain parts of the narrative. Literary devices such as dramatic irony, plot twists, and surprise endings all depend on the writer changing when and how the reader learns about the narrative.

Narrative writing can be fiction or nonfiction. Nonfiction narrative writing concerns real events. Fictional narrative writing is completely made up. And sometimes, an author writes a fictional narrative that includes real past events (historical fiction).

Examples of narrative writing include:

3. Persuasive writing

Sometimes, a writer doesn’t want to explain a topic or talk about a narrative of events, but rather get the reader to do something or think a certain way. Persuasive writing helps writers convince the reader that a certain opinion or idea is the best one.

Persuasive writers use a variety of literary devices and tools to convince their audience. One tool is to cite evidence that supports the writer’s view, such as:

Other times, persuasive writers may rely on moral arguments, character judgments, or religious beliefs to support their point of view. But whether the persuasive writer relies on objective or subjective arguments, they should organize their arguments so that readers can easily follow them and (hopefully) come to the same conclusions.

Examples of persuasive writing include:

4. Descriptive writing

Have you ever “stopped and smelled the roses?” Where were you? What did the smell like? What thoughts and emotions came to mind? Descriptive writers answer questions like these to help the readers imagine what it’s like to be in a certain place or situation.

The descriptive writing style uses many literary devices to evoke the feelings and emotions of the scene. It’s here where writers might use a simile and metaphor, imagery, or onomatopoeia. Writers often combine descriptive writing with other writing styles to get the reader to stop and focus on one scene or idea. For example, a novel that uses mostly narrative writing may suddenly switch to descriptive writing for an important scene.

It’s rare for a single piece to include only descriptive writing, but descriptive writing is often included in:

5. Creative writing

Creative writing exists outside of all of the other writing methods above. A creative writer may choose to incorporate some of the traditional writing styles, all of them, or none of them. But like all other writers, creative writers aim to share an idea or emotion with readers.

Creative writers typically use words to share a message, but modern creative writers may also include images, audio, and video as part of their work.

Types of literature

We’ve gone over different styles and methods of writing, but how do writers put it all together to come up with something new? Below are the most common types of literature that writers create.

Plays, movies, and TV shows

Plays, also known as dramatic literature, are written to be spoken aloud by different readers to an audience on a stage. Each reader represents a different character in the story, and the writer organizes the play by instructing what each character should say. Playwrights also include notes about the play that aren’t meant to be spoken. These notes could include instructions about where the characters should be standing, how they should read their lines, and how the stage should look.

The modern extension of the play is the movie and TV script. Like playwrights, writers for movies and TV shows instruct characters what to say and how they should say it.

Political campaign and debate speeches

Just because someone is talking doesn’t mean that it doesn’t count as writing. After all, most great speeches were written down before they were spoken. Political speeches are a great example of this. Most politicians work with teams of professional speechwriters to help them deliver moving speeches. In fact, professional speechwriters may be the most influential writers that you never hear about.

Commentaries

People who write commentaries like to write about writing. In other words, not only are commentary writers great writers, but they’re great readers too. Commentaries include notes about writing in the past that help explain what the original author meant with a certain word or in a certain passage. Commentary writers may also try to use the text to promote a particular viewpoint or interpretation. Thus, commentary writers combine different writing styles in their work.

Diaries

Considered the “newspaper” of your life, diaries detail what happened during the day — who you saw or met, what you did, where you went, etc. Usually, diary entries don’t focus on the emotions or insights involved. That usually begins the journaling process, where you state what your opinion was on such a person, how you felt about the things you did, and so on. You can use a diary as notes for your autobiography.

Writing a diary is similar to writing a journal, but the main difference is that diaries focus on the basic details. Again, they tend to focus more on the Who? What? Where? and When? of your life.

Journals

The journal being discussed in this portion is not a published journal of medicine or a fancy term for a nonfiction magazine. The journal discussed in this section is a personal journal that you may or may not share with others. Writing a journal can help you deal with issues in your life, or it can give you idea fodder for fiction pieces to write.

Once you have a collection of memories in your journal, you can start writing a memoir or just keep those entries for yourself to look through when you want to remember something about your life.

Autobiography

This particular form of writing is a personal account of a person’s life written by the same person. These can also be written as personal memoirs. Writing an autobiography can be a great experience. If you’re interested, consider keeping a diary and/or journal so that you have plenty of notes when you go back to write your autobiography later in your life.

Book reviews

Book reviews play an important role for writers of books. A good book review can change the future of the book by driving more publicity and more book sales. A bad review can discourage people from reading it or even causing the book to be pulled from shelves and online stores.

Character sketches

There are two types of character sketches. One involves the creation of a character, usually with questions and answers, for your creative writing. There are also academic assignments that involve creating a sketch of another author’s character, which is usually designed to help you create your own characters.

Even if your creative writing is an autobiography, you should consider creating a character sketch for any and all characters you plan to use. It’s also a good idea to consider a brief character sketch when writing a book review. Write it on your favorite character from the book.

Comic strips

If you’ve ever read the funnies in the newspaper, you’re familiar with comic strips. They are drawings that follow in a sequence to detail a story. While there’s more art involved than prose, there is still some writing involved for them. If you’re considering comic strips, you might want to work on your drawing skills in addition to your writing skills.

Ready to start writing?

Whether you’re learning to write your first novel or planning to become the next great speechwriter, it’s important to start writing something — anything! Remember that what you write doesn’t have to be perfect. But with some time, patience, practice, and a little help from an online writing course, you can be well on your way to a new writing career.

Page Last Updated: December 2021

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