How can I write an essay that addresses the question: "Does the style of writing hurt or help an essay? Why or why not?"

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In 1918, Cornell professor William Strunk and former student E.B. White (of Charlotte's Web fame) put together a list of over 40 different literary styles in a prescriptive document that was later made into a manual.  Titled The Elements of Style, this important guide to writing was finally published in 1920.

The fact that Strunk and White noted the need to identify the different styles and element of writing tells us how important it is to recognize the versatility of this art. Moreover, the large list of of styles shows that authors do identify with different modems of expression the way that other artists do. Having uncovered so many different ones makes it clear that writing is a product of what Oscar Wilde called during one of his 1895 trials, the

"taste and temperament of the artist."

The importance of style being established, let's discuss how style can hurt, or benefit, an author. 

The phrase "taste and temperament" carries with it a huge weight. It suggests that, if the author knows what he or she is doing, the format of the writing, even the language chosen, will surface naturally throughout the entire piece. This would be because, ultimately, the goal of writing is to bring out one of these purposes:

  • information
  • entertainment
  • persuasion
  • description

Being that those are the typical purposes of writing, the style that the author chooses as the medium of the central message will certainly help enforce it, or take away from it. 

Upon looking at the five most popular styles, it is safe to conclude that the style definitely works to color, shape, accentuate, and give more validity to the written publication. It is in the way things are said, and not so much in the words alone, that someone can convey "meaning." 

  • Tone- Choosing the right tone is imperative to bring out the gist of the central topic. For example, an argumentative piece of literature cannot have the same tone as a work produced for entertainment. It will take away from the rigor of a topic that is meant to convince people to change their mentality about something. That, alone, is a feat in itself. Imagine the final statement of a defense lawyer in a court of law trying to keep someone from getting the death penalty. The tone of a summation of this type must be demure, serious, and exude gravitas.  A summation sounding like he wants to entertain an audience will take away from the entire issue at hand. Sure, writing can be "entertain-ING", but the tone must remain true to the topic. 
  • Vocabulary and Sentence Structure- These two are treated as two separate styles but, if you have proper words for the right topic, you also need to be effective on how you put them together. Fortunately, all writing purposes come with formats. While you can get creative with your formats, it is important that you at least stick to what the audience expects to hear. For example, the tone, vocabulary and sentence structure of a college thesis carries with it a checklist of requirements from which you cannot move away. Again, yes, the writing can be entertaining, and certain creative licenses may be employed upon permission. The overall message, however, must be carried with its proper style. 
  • Perspective- Extremely important. In some writing projects you must present your rationale. Why go through all of this writing if you have no purpose or reason behind it? Hence, you must adopt the viewpoint. For example, in an argumentative piece, are you speaking from the perspective of a social reformer, or from the viewpoint of a victim? Once you decide your perspective, you must stick with it. Switching shifts may work in a fictional work for entertainment purposes. Still, even the most seasoned authors focalize on one point of view to present a story. 
  • Imagery and description- Are you taking your audience through a timeline of events, are you taking your audience to the place where your inspiration is coming from? Why is Don Quijote de la Mancha one of the most important pieces of Spanish literature? Because the author, while presenting good imagery, was even more effective in conveying his character's description in such a way that we all become "Quixotic". 
  • Storytelling- Also known commonly as "flow", it is incredibly important as a writing style. A monotonous, repetitive, interrupted, non-focused story line or will make the audience lose interest immediately. Having the ability to let a story have a good beginning, middle, and end is indicative of good writing. It shows that the writer has complete control of his or her thoughts. It is what distinguishes good writing from GREAT writing.

I am sure that this can get you started on your argumentative essay on how these styles can help to hurt or help a piece of literature. As you can see, having a good control of these is a good thing for any writer. Not having a set style will lead to losing valuable audience attention.