Four Different Writing Styles and Their Conventions

There are four main styles of writing: Narrative, Descriptive, Expository, and Argumentative. 
Each has their own conventions. 

Conventions = the way something is commonly done. Traits you will find in most pieces of writing in that style. 


  •  To “narrate” means to tell a story 
  • In narrative writing, we think and write about ourselves and our experiences 
  • It is important to consider what is meaningful or significant about your story – what did you learn about yourself or the world that would be interesting to other readers
  • Usually written from perspective of writer – 1st person singular (I); sometimes authors play with this, using third person singular – but it is important to be consistent
  • Within narrative writing you will always find the conventions of a story: plot, setting, characters, climax, resolution 
  • There is a clear sequence of events, usually in chronological order, but authors also use flashbacks 


  • Descriptive writing describes people, places, things, moments in vivid detail that helps the reader create a mental picture of what you are writing about
  • Specific adjectives and verbs that convey emotions 
  • Sensory detail – remember you have five senses. Good writers use all of them to describe something. 
  • Similes, Metaphors, Personification 


  •  Expository writing explains or informs
  • Writers must assume that the reader has no prior knowledge about the topic 
  • Describe, Comparison, Cause and Effect, Problem and Solution 
  • Focused on one topic
  • Objective writing (no personal opinions) 
  • Accurate and Well-Researched 
  • Clear Definitions 


  • Arguing an Opinion  
  • Point of view backed up with convincing evidence and logical reasoning 
  • You should consider the opposite position 
  • Clear structure to this style of writing: open with opinion and reasons; explain those reasons; argue against the opposite opinion; conclude with your opinion again. 

It is important to be able to recognize these different styles of writing and their conventions as you read and write more. However, the one style we have focused on in this course is Narrative Writing. So, the only style you must really know for the exam is that one. 


Homework Assignments 13/12/13

1. Edit your narrative essays using SWAPS and re-write them. Final drafts are due in class next week. 

2. Punctuation Exercises – 

1. Look at the following text. All the punctuation, except for the full-stops, has been removed. Can you replace it?

margherita is a london girl and arriving at capital was like coming home. I grew up listening to capital radio she says. people say wasnt it frightening joining such wellknown presenters but everyone here is so down to earth. it would be offputting if the others had people doing their makeup or star signs on their office doors. but theres none of that mick brown for instance finishes his show and wanders off to get the bus home with everyone else.

2. Put in semicolons, colons, dashes, quotation marks, Italics (use an underline), and parentheses where ever they are needed in the following sentences.

1. The men in question Harold Keene, Jim Peterson, and Gerald Greene deserve awards.

2. Several countries participated in the airlift Italy, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg.

3. Only one course was open to us surrender, said the ex-major, and we did.

4. Judge Carswell later to be nominated for the Supreme Court had ruled against civil rights.

5. In last week’s New Yorker, one of my favorite magazines, I enjoyed reading Leland’s article How Not to Go Camping.

6. Yes, Jim said, I’ll be home by ten.

7. There was only one thing to do study till dawn.

8. Montaigne wrote the following A wise man never loses anything, if he has himself.

9. The following are the primary colors red, blue, and yellow.

10. Arriving on the 8 10 plane were Liz Brooks, my old roommate her husband and Tim, their son.

11. When the teacher commented that her spelling was poor, Lynn replied All the members of my family are poor spellers. Why not me?

12. He used the phrase you know so often that I finally said No, I don’t know.

13. The automobile dealer handled three makes of cars Volkswagens, Porsches, and Mercedes Benz.

14. Though Phil said he would arrive on the 9 19 flight, he came instead on the 10 36 flight.

15. Whoever thought said Helen that Jack would be elected class president?

16. In baseball a show boat is a man who shows off.

17. The minister quoted Isaiah 5 21 in last Sunday’s sermon.

18. There was a very interesting article entitled The New Rage for Folk Singing in last Sunday’s New York Times newspaper.

19. Whoever is elected secretary of the club Ashley, or Chandra, or Aisha must be prepared to do a great deal of work, said Jumita, the previous secretary.

20. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species 1859 caused a great controversy when it appeared.



Proofreading and Editing

This fourth and final stage of the writing process is very easy to overlook. By this point, you are tired, and you do not want to read over what you have written, again. But, I argue that it is the most important part of the writing process. 
After spending so much time brainstorming ideas, developing them, writing them down, revising them –  you cannot leave your writing filled with spelling/grammar/punctuation errors. Readers will quickly stop trying to understand your ideas and instead focus on those mistakes. 

Its important to take your time when you edit your writing. Use the following checklist as a guide. I suggest doing five complete read-throughs and each time, focus on something different. Do not try to spot and fix all your mistakes at once – you will get overwhelmed and miss some. A good trick is to read your writing out loud, this helps you spot mistakes more easily. 


Sentence Structure

Check each sentence to be sure it is not a

  1. Run on sentence
  2. Sentence fragment
  3. Sentence that doesn’t make sense


Word Usage

  1. Be sure you’ve used the correct word.
  2. Avoid slang words. (kids, homies, etc.)
  3. Use precise nouns and verbs. (Word choice)
  4. Avoid contractions in formal writing.



  1. Be sure that subjects and Verbs agree in number. (singular or plural)
  2. Be sure pronouns agree with their antecedent in number. (singular or plural)
  3. Be sure pronouns are in the correct case. (subjective or objective e.g. between you and me)
  4. Keep verb tenses are kept consistent. (present, past, future, etc.)
  5. Keep voice is consistent. (Don’t switch incorrectly from first to second person, etc.)
  6. Keep similar items parallel.
  7. Use subjunctive mood for hypothetical and untrue situations.



  1. Be sure all sentences have ending punctuation.
  2. Check to be sure questions end with question marks.
  3. Use commas after introductory words and phrases.
  4. Use commas after items in lists except for the last item.
  5. Use a comma in a compound sentence just before the coordinating conjunction. (FANBOYS)
  6. Use commas to set apart non essential phrases, clauses and appositives.
  7. Omit unnecessary commas.
  8. Use a comma after a dependent clause when it comes before an independent clause.


Spelling & Capitalization

  1. Check for careless spelling errors including poor letter formation.
  2. Avoid casual spelling such as cause for because and gonna for going to.
  3. Remember that a lot is two words.
  4. Begin each sentence with a capital.
  5. Check homonyms to be sure you have spelled the one you mean (there, their, they’re; where,were, to, too, two; your, you’re)
  6. Capitalize proper nouns including I.
  7. Eliminate unnecessary capitals.
  8. Check to be sure apostrophes are used in contractions and possessives.


Punctuation Review

Period/Full Stop
Use a period to end a complete sentence. A sentence is a group of words containing a subject and predicate. In British English a period is called a ‘full stop’.

He went to Detroit last week.
They are going to visit.

There are a number of different uses for commas in English. Commas are used to:

  • Separate a list of items. This is one of the most common uses of a comma. Notice that a comma is included before the conjunction ‘and’ which comes before the final element of a list.

I like reading, listening to music, taking long walks, and visiting with my friends.
They would like books, magazines, DVDs, video cassettes, and other learning materials for their library.

  • Separate phrases (clauses). This is especially true after a beginning dependent clause or a long prepositional phrase.

In order to qualify for your certificate, you will need to take the TOEFL exam.
Although he wanted to come, he wasn’t able to attend the course.

  • Separate two independent clauses that are connected by a conjunction such as ‘but’.

They wanted to purchase a new car, but their financial situation would not allow it.
I’d really enjoy seeing a film this evening, and I’d like to go out for a drink.

  • Introduce a direct quote (as opposed to indirect speech i.e. He said he wanted to come …).

The boy said, “My father is often away during the week on business trips.”
His doctor replied, “If you don’t stop smoking, you run the risk of a heart attack.”

  • Separate appositives (a noun, or noun phrase) or non-defining modifying clauses.

Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, comes from Seattle.
My only sister, who is a fantastic tennis player, is in great shape.


Question Mark
The question mark is used at the end of a question.

Where do you live?
How long have they been studying?

Exclamation Point
The exclamation point is used at the end of a sentence to indicate great surprise. It is also used for emphasis when making a point. Be careful not to use an exclamation point too often.

That ride was fantastic!
I can’t believe he is going to marry her!

There are two uses for a semicolon:

  • To separate two independent clauses. One or both of the clauses are short and the ideas expressed are usually very similar.


He loves studying; He can’t get enough of school.
What an incredible situation; it must make you nervous.

  • To separate groups of words that are themselves separated by commas.

I took a holiday and played golf, which I love; read a lot, which I needed to do; and slept late, which I hadn’t done for quite a while.
They plan to study German, for their travels; chemistry, for their work; and literature, for their own enjoyment.

A colon can be used for two purposes:

  • To provide additional details and explanation.

He had many reasons for joining the club: to get in shape, to make new friends, to lose some weight, and to get out of the house.
She gave notice for the following reasons: bad pay, horrible hours, poor relations with colleagues, and her boss.

  • To introduce a direct quote (a comma can also be used in this situation).

He announced to his friends: “I’m getting married!”
She cried out: “I never want to see you again!”

There are two functions of the apostrophe

  •  to indicate possession  

The teacher’s pen. 
The students’ books. 

  • to indicate omitted characters in contractions.

I can’t make it to the party tonight. 
It’s a cold day today. 

The nonmathematical function of brackets is to enclose editorial insertions, corrections, and comments in quoted material and in reference citations

“[Mandela] created hope where there was none.” (Andrew Mlangeni) 

The hyphen is used to connect words or parts of words: it connects the syllables of words broken at the ends of lines, it connects prefixes and suffixes to words, and it connects compound words. The modern trend is away from hyphenation. Permanent compounds tend to become solid, and temporary compounds tend to be hyphenated only when necessary to avoid ambiguity.

Quotation Marks
Quotation marks are used to enclose words quoted from another source, direct discourse, or words requiring differentiation from the surrounding text. Since they enclose, they always come in pairs. They can also be overused and render a text visually hard to read.

“I am travelling this weekend,” he said. 

Have you been reading “The New York Times” recently? 

Grammar Review: Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject: The person or thing that performs the verb.
The subject always determines whether the verb is singular or plural. If the subject is singular, use the singular version of the verb:
I am on the bus.
If the subject is plural (more than one) use the plural version of the verb: 
Joe and Tom are with me. 

Sometimes it can get confusing when there is a clause between the subject and the verb.
My friend from Tokyo, who has a lot of dogs and cats, is a computer genius.

Common Mistakes:
1. Nobody is here.
Everybody helps when there is a crisis.

After Everybody/Nobody/Everyone/Someone/Neither/Either – singular form of verb.

2. Either the teacher or the students write on the blackboard.
Either the students or the teacher writes on the blackboard. 
When you use Either/Or, look at the subject closest to the verb. That is the one that agrees.

3. My problem with you guys is that you don’t listen.
Ford, in addition to Mercedes Benz, is lowering its car prices.
When using With/In addition – look at the noun before the phrases to determine verb agreement

4. One hundred dollars is a lot of money.
Four miles is a long walk. 
Measurements of money, time, and distance usually require SINGULAR verb.

5. None of them is here.
None are helpless.
Look at the meaning of the phrase – none can be used to refer to singular or plural

6. A number of people are waiting.
The number of the stars in the sky is impossible to count.
Pay attention to articles. A number – plural / The number – singular

Revising Your Writing

Revising (or Rewriting) is the third stage in a four-step writing process. When you revise your writing, you should focus first on “higher-order concerns”. In general this refers to the focus, organization, and development of your writing as opposed to sentence level errors (“lower order concerns”). Revision is a time to re-think and make changes. You have to be brave and not be afraid to take whole paragraphs out, re-write a section, or insert a completely new paragraph. 

In class today, we practiced three important revising strategies:
       1) Reverse Outlines – underline the main idea of each paragraph, list the main ideas separately, examine the order and development of ideas.    
       2) Eliminating Irrelevant Information – read each sentence in your paragraph and refer back to the main idea each time. Does every sentence belong in that paragraph? Is there any information that is repeated or unnecessary? 
       3) Peer Editing – have a partner read your work and discuss their reactions, their thoughts on your strengths and weaknesses. 

Reverse Outlines

  1. Underline one sentence in each paragraph that captures the main idea of that paragraph
  2. Re-write the sentences you underlined in the order they appear in your essay.
  3. Read through the sentences:
              Does the order of ideas make sense?
              Are there any ideas that are redundant (repeated)?
              Are there ideas that are missing, that should be included to help
              the flow of your essay?
  4. Go back to your original essay. Start with the first paragraph and read the sentence you underlined (main idea). Now read all the other sentences in the paragraph. Do all the sentences support and connect to your main idea?
  5. Remove any sentences/ideas that do not belong and write them on a separate piece of paper.
  6. Repeat process with each paragraph.


Peer Editing Questionnaire

Thesis or focus:

  • Can you, if asked, offer a one-sentence explanation or summary of what the paper is about?
  • Ask someone to read the first paragraph or two and tell you what he or she thinks the paper will discuss.

Audience and purpose:

  • Do you have an appropriate audience in mind? Can you describe them?
  • Do you have a clear purpose for the paper? What is it intended to do or accomplish?
  • Why would someone want to read this paper?
  • Does the purpose match the assignment?


  • Does the paper progress in an organized, logical way?
  • Ask your partner to read the paper, paragraph by paragraph. At the end of each paragraph, ask the person to forecast where the paper is headed. If the paper goes in a direction other than the one forecasted by the reader, is there a good reason, or do you need to rewrite something there?


  • Are there places in the paper where more details, examples, or specifics are needed?
  • Do any paragraphs seem much shorter and in need of more material than others? (For more help, see our handout on paragraphing.)
  • Ask your partner to comment if something is unclear and needs more description, explanation, or support.