Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Own your style but don’t get owned by it

September 12, 2019

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Credit: Pixabay user RyanMcGuire

There’s a level of writing development and individuality that many if not most reporters try to achieve—personal style. It’s a unique form of expression that identifies a writer’s work as clearly as brushstrokes can name the painter.

There are several major advantages to developing a true personal style, which is different from having a set of habitual expressions that a writer repeatedly arranges, like so many building blocks for kids. One is the help it offers in building an audience. People come to hear the stories you tell—your literary voice as well as the types of material you gravitate towards. The broader and more interested the audience, the more beneficial the effect on your career. If people value your work, they will seek it out, bringing additional audience to a publication.

Your unique approach, should it become well known, can open doors to opportunities, both from publications that want to hitch themselves to your notoriety (see the point above) and to sources that might be more willing to speak with you.

Further, when you apply your style to the proper material, you have a chance to illuminate topics in ways no one else could. You provide part of a bigger story. Without your work, the entire enterprise across outlets, editors, reporters, and the public becomes lessened.

However, as regularly happens in life, too much reliance on what normally is good can become bad. Style is good when matched with subjects that can benefit from tis presence. Else, the clamorous combination can reduce the good you can do. For example, I’ve long wondered about the wisdom of assuming narrative is the proper approach to all stories. Many writers love to churn emotion while editors encourage having a narrative arc and character development.

That is all fine when you tell a personal story. Unfortunately, not all topics fit the treatment. Sometimes a variation on an inverted pyramid is the exact tool. Or you might need a more magazine-like exposition with greater cleverness and wit but still to the point. Your style needs a full toolkit at hand.

Some writers also come to rely on style, in the form of reputation, and stop doing the hard work. The choice hollows out the writer, leaving a shell at best and a caricature at worst, displacing a diminishing amount of good that the person can do.

Find and develop your style, recognizing that it is a set of tools that are there to be useful, not to upstage the project.

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