The family computer is in my kitchen. One day I was Gchating with my son, Nick, and I stepped away from the keyboard for a minute. My daughter, Emma, quickly sat down and responded to Nick pretending to be me. Immediately Nick responded, “Who is this? This isn’t Mom!” Because Nick knows me well, he could tell it was someone else. He knows my style.

Has something like this ever happened to you? Do you wonder why you can recognize the “sound” of someone’s expression without even hearing his/her actual voice? It’s because style comes across in word choice, vocabulary, tone, punctuation, and sentence/paragraph construction. These important elements of communication are what make your writing unique; it’s your style! And you should use your style to engage your audience.

Students in the sciences often think their writing should be devoid of any style. It is true that scientific writing requires a clear and precise style, and it generally avoids a lot of use of figurative language, but it still needs to have individuality in order to capture the reader’s attention. Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sagan’s best-selling science book, Cosmos, was successful in part because of the exuberant and eloquent style of his prose. He was adept at explaining technical subjects in terms that were approachable and understood by a general audience. His word choice and vocabulary suited an educated audience. His tone was positive and energetic. And his paragraph and sentence construction were clear and sophisticated. He was a skilled scientist, writer, teacher, and communicator–and it was largely because his style was engaging, and he knew how to use it on an audience.

Sagan’s clear and sophisticate prose is evident in this quotation from The Cosmic Connection (1973): “Even today, there are moments when what I do seems to me like an improbable, if unusually pleasant dream: to be involved in the exploration of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; to try to duplicate the steps that led to the origin of life on an Earth very different from the one we know; to land instruments on Mars to search there for life; and perhaps to be engaged in a serious effort to communicate with other intelligent beings, if such there be, out there in the dark of the night sky.” Punctuation and parallel structure establish the rhythm or sound of this passage. (Note the use of semicolons as comma upgrades to separate his long phrases, and the use of commas to set off interrupters, along with a colon to add to the “reveal” aspect of the first phrase. Additionally, infinitive phrases provide the repeated grammatical structure that supports the cadence of this passage.)

What a dull and colorless world we’d live in if we didn’t incorporate our own style into our writing. One of the easiest ways to get started on developing your own style is to consciously examine the styles of your favorite authors. Read, study, and then imitate the style. Add those “pieces of flair” (reference to Office Space–didn’t you wonder about the relevance of the image?) to show your individuality through your word choice, vocabulary, tone, punctuation, and sentence/paragraph construction!

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