A guide to writing styles: Part 1- journalism

Writing is everywhere. And there are different styles of writing in different formats – how to know when to use what? Let’s start with journalism. 

Whether you know it or not, you write all the time.

Shopping lists. WhatsApp messages. Facebook posts. Tweets. Instagram posts. Emails. 

You might also write academic papers, or blog posts, or research briefs. Or letters (remember those) to a friend.

All those kinds of communication require different styles of writing, and you adapt effortlessly without thinking about it.

The SMS to your boss says:

Sorry, running late, terrible traffic.

The email message says:

I am so sorry I was late for the meeting. I got snarled up in traffic. I’ll be sure to check the minutes of the meeting and catch up with the people who were there.

The WhatsApp to your friend says:

OMG #whataday – traffic, boss cross, missed meeting. Drinkies later?

In those examples, you are using different words, and different kinds of punctuation according to your knowledge of the audience and the context in which you are writing. And you effortlessly adapt to the platform that you are using. 

What happens when writing gets serious?

But writing for a bigger audience is intimidating. You need to know what the features of different writing styles are, and then consciously craft your own writing to that platform and audience.

A good place to start is (as always) to read as much as you can. And each time you read something, try to be aware of how the writing is different according to the “place” you find yourself in.

It helps to know what you are looking for. In this first of a series of articles about writing styles, I’ll outline the kinds of writing styles you might find in different kinds of journalism.


News – straight, investigative, feature, analysis (make thi

Straight news – just the facts – who, what, where, why, when and how – clean and simple language

Investigative writing – generally this will be done by a unit within a media house; will also be factual, but will carry a lot more detail and background information than straight news 

News features – will have the facts and the background but will be written in a descriptive way 

Analysis – goes into the reasons for something, or tries to understand an issue in depth, will be based on facts that can be uncovered or quoted about the issue, and it will usually be an important issue 


Opinion – columns, opinion pieces

Almost always written by one person (sometimes a group of people). Express an opinion or tell a personal story (in the case of a column)


“Soft news” features

These will often have a mix of fact and opinion – a travel piece about a game reserve, with facts about the reserve but also descriptions of the writer’s experiences and impressions; or a health article about trying a particular diet, which might carry the medical thinking behind the diet but would tell the story of the writer’s experience of the diet.



An expert in a field gives their impressions of and opinion about something – typically books, movies, plays, food



Most often in question and answer form – can be with a person in the news, or someone who has something interesting to say

READ: Writing tips: Grammar tools and resources

Main picture: Patrick Tomasso, Unsplash

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