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How Structure Affects the Style of a Text

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  • 0:00 Structure and Style
  • 0:54 A Variety of Styles
  • 2:36 Putting Style with Structure
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we're going to explore the ways in which a text's structure affects its style. Focusing on nonfiction texts, we'll identify several common styles and see how they fit together with several common structures.

Structure and Style

Another English assignment . . . and this one is harder than ever! Your teacher wants you to write a paragraph about how the structure of a nonfiction text affects its style. You feel like throwing your English book out the window at this point, but instead you sit down at your desk and turn to your computer. First, you need to figure out what the word structure and style actually mean.

Structure is pretty simple really. It's merely the way a text is organized. Authors deliberately choose to arrange their information and ideas in a particular way.

Style is a little trickier. Style refers to the manner in which an author presents information and ideas. A writer's style is created by his or her choices of words, sentence structures, tone, imagery, point of view, figurative language, symbolism, and mood.

A Variety of Styles

'Okay,' you think, 'that makes sense.' As you continue to research, you learn that, while every writer has his or her own style, there are a few common styles that writers adapt to their own purposes.

The first style is expository. With this style, writers choose a fairly formal language to present information about a particular topic. They tend to leave out emotional appeals and their own opinions about a subject, focusing instead on the qualities of the subject itself. A formal analysis of Robert Browning's poetry would probably use an expository style.

The second style is descriptive. While using this style, writers concentrate on sensory detail to paint a word picture of a person, place, thing, or event, and they strive to go beyond mere information and capture the depth and feel of the subject. The author of a travel article about Italy would employ a descriptive style to bring Italy's wonders to life for his readers.

The third style is persuasive. Writers use this style to convince their audience to accept a particular point of view. This is an argumentative style that presents reasons and evidence to support a claim. A newspaper editorial that tries to convince readers that a city needs a new school building would employ a persuasive style as the writer presents his claim, reasons, and evidence and tries to persuade his readers to agree with him.

The last style is narrative. Writers utilize a narrative style to tell a story. History books and biographies often feature the narrative style as they present stories about historical events and people.

Putting Style Together with Structure

Aha! Now you're getting the hang of this! Next, you turn to your notes and review the five major nonfiction structures.

  1. Chronological, which presents events in the order of time
  2. Cause and effect, which looks at the causes and effects of an event
  3. Problem and solution, which examines a problem and offers a solution or solutions to it
  4. Compare and contrast, which analyzes the similarities and differences between two or more subjects
  5. Descriptive, which focuses on sensory details or gives directions on how to perform a task

You set your lists of styles and structures next to each other. Click! A light bulb just came on in your head. It's clear that some structures just plain work better with some styles than with others. The chronological structure is a perfect fit with the narrative style. The cause and effect and compare and contrast structures work well with the expository style. The problem and solution structure and the persuasive style are a good match. The descriptive structure, of course, goes nicely with the descriptive style.

Now you see how style and structure fit together and influence one another. Authors adapt their style to their structure and vice versa. You have one more task, though. You know that you'll get a better grade if you think of some specific examples to include in your paragraph. You quickly make one more list:

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