Skip to main content

Teaching Students to Write with Style


Teaching students to write with style.png

This article articulates common principles of developing a good writing style. As with most subjects, students learn to write better through guided experience than through lecture. This website assumes that teachers write in their professions, so they are competent in disciplinary writing, and can recognize good writing in that context. Still, as students broaden their skills and learn many kinds of writing, it’s valuable to learn how to write with style for universal audiences.


Good writing is significant, clear, organized, coherent, and correct. Strunk and White (2018) suggest that the principles of solid writing are good design, active voice, specific and concrete language, correct usage, and paragraphs that are focused and unified. Good writing is natural, spare, and above all clear, never over written or over stated; it focuses on nouns and verbs rather than choking its sentences with qualifiers (adjectives and adverbs), limits explanation, balances humility and ego in the writer, doesn’t rely too heavily on figures of speech, and makes clear who the speaker is. Writing with style is both a science and an art.

Basics of Practice


This website bridges between writing and experiential learning, and it can’t give an exhaustive treatment of everything about either experiential learning or good writing. Excellent resources for teaching writing are the Purdue Online Writing Lab ( That source has articles on style, the writing process, academic writing, mechanics, grammar, punctuation, visual rhetoric, and university and community engaged writing.

One of the best texts on writing is Strunk and White (1999) Elements of Style, which “proposes to given in brief space the principle requirements of plain English style.” E. B. White, who wrote for the New Yorker and who is the is the author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, admired a book written by his own writing teacher at Cornell, William Strunk, Jr., and revised it through the years. Strunk and White has been the bible of style for decades. It talks about rules of usage, principles of composition, and discusses how to develop a style that is both individualistic and universal.

Another excellent guide to style was written by Joseph Williams, University of Chicago, and updated in 2013, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. Williams’ process can be used to improve the punch and clarity of sentences:

  • Find the central action of the sentence. For example, in “Writing by good writers is good communication” the central verb could either be write or communicate. “Publications by government entities are often convoluted and full of jargon.” The central act might be publish.
  • Make the central action the verb of the sentence. For example, Good writers communicate well or Those who communicate, also write well. And Government entities publish convoluted, jargonish writing.”
  • Translate nominalizations back into verbs. Abstract nouns such as communication, translation, organization, assimilation, can be turned into strong verbs—communicate, translate, organize, assimilate.

Some writing teachers teach about the writing process in class, but they don’t use class time for students to engage in the process—which is not experiential education. However, many parts of the writing process can be brought into the classroom where teachers engage students through hands-on guidance. Some components of the general writing process that teachers can help students perform are

  • generate ideas,
  • restrict the ideas to fit the writing task (both in terms of number and scope)
  • draft, continuing to add and remove material as is appropriate,
  • get feedback (through the teacher or peer workshops),
  • redraft,
  • polish, and
  • copy edit.


  • In a blog for the Center for Engaged Learning, Elon University, Paul Anderson (2013), scholar in the pedagogy of writing, says teachers should:
    • Engage students in meaning-constructing writing tasks
    • Encourage students to engage in interactive writing processes
    • Explain their writing expectations clearly to students

    Anderson, in a Writing Matters luncheon at Brigham Young University reported on the National Survey of Student Engagement and isolated certain features of writing assignments that seem to increase student engagement, including the following:

    • Tell students what you want them to learn from working on the assignment.
    • Describe your evaluation criteria in specific terms.
    • Tell students the important features of what you want them to turn in: genre, target readers, purpose, length, style, level of polish.
    • If you want students to follow a certain process, describe the steps in detail.
    • Break long assignments into parts; use strategies 1 through 4 for each one.
    • Give students written copies of your assignment.
  • Use class to engage in the process of writing. Drafting itself is often a solitary act, although jointly authored articles is the convention in many disciplines, but many of the other stages of the writing process can be done in groups with direct teacher input
    • Teachers and students can help each other brainstorm ideas. Each of the articles in Pick your Genres and those in this section (Craft Writing Prompts and Assignments), gives prompts that can help students come up with ideas.
    • Teachers and peers should help students narrow their ideas. For suggestions on innovative ways of outlining or mapping ideas see Mel Henderson's assignment for mapping arguments.
    • For help with giving good feedback on drafts go here.
    • The resources described above (the Purdue OWL, Elements of Style, and Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace) can help you help your students polish their work.

Teaching Materials and Resources


Anderson, P. (July 29, 2013). New research expands what we know about how to use writing to enhance student learning. Center for Engaged Learning, Elon University.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University.

Strunk, W. and White, E. B. (1999). The elements of style (4th ed.). Pearson.

Williams, J. and Bizup, J. (2013). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace (11th Edition). Pearson.

Further Reading

Anderson, P. (2010). Technical communication: A reader-centered approach (7th ed.). Wadsworth.