Academic Writing


Writing Styles

Robert E. Howard

One of my favorite authors is Robert E. Howard. Howard is famous for his short adventure stories. He was writing during the 1930s, an era called the "Great Depression". It was a time when many Americans were poor and out of work.

At that time, publishers paid writers like Howard a penny per word. In other words, a 2,000-word story would earn Howard $20; a 3,000-word story paid $30. Howard soon learned that he could earn more money by embellishing his sentences with many adverbs and adjectives.

Here is an example of Howard's style (with modifiers highlighted).

The woman on the horse reined in her weary steed. It stood with its legs wide-braced, its head drooping, as if it found even the weight of the gold-tasseled, red-leather bridle too heavy. The woman drew a booted foot out of the silver stirrup and swung down from the gilt-worked saddle. She made the reins fast to the fork of a sapling, and turned about, hands on her hips, to survey her surroundings.

Even from this short example, you can see that Howard has a very "wordy" style.

Earnest Hemingway

Other writers, like Earnest Hemingway, are famous for having styles that are sparse.

Here, for example, is a sample of Hemingway's style:

Manuel drank his brandy. He felt sleepy himself. It was too hot to go out into the town. Besides there was nothing to do. He wanted to see Zurito. He would go to sleep while he waited.

Hemingway proved that you don't need long sentences full of adjectives and adverbs in order to tell a gripping story.

Which style is better?

The answer depends on the skill of the author as well as your personal tastes. Half the fun of studying literature is the chance to sample many different styles. Eventually, based on your own skills and preferences, you'll develop a style of your own. Should you throw in some extra words, or take some out? The choice is up to you!

What about Academic Writing?

I'm glad you asked that question, because that's the point that I'm really trying to make: When writing fiction (and some forms of non-fiction), there's room for a variety of styles. But when writing an academic essay, almost everyone agrees:

And that's the subject of the next lesson.