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Writing Style Rules

Essay Writing Style Rules

Although teachers exert considerable effort in showing students the differences between the narrative and essay genre, the both stories and essays do share some common writing rules. Among these are the accepted rules of writing style. Different than grammar, usage, or mechanics rules, the accepted rules of writing style help student writers avoid the pitfalls and excesses of formulaic, padded, and contrived writing.

Check out the essay e-comments teachers need to respond to student essays regarding writing rules and writing style.

Additionally, using proper writing style helps students improve coherence and readability. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Writing Center has an excellent article on writing style.

Although writing style is certainly unique to every writer, English-language arts teachers have a role in developing that style. Most would agree that there are, in fact, rules of essay style which are unique to that writing genre. I’ve developed a set of 24 Essay Writing Style Rules. Written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, teachers and some precocious students will appreciate the humor and all students will learn what not to write in their stories and essays. Teach these rules of writing style and cringe less as you grade that next set of papers.

Essay Writing Style Rules

  1. Avoid intentional fragments. Right?
  2. Avoid formulaic phrases in this day and age.
  3. I have shown that you should delete references to your own writing.
  4. Be sort of specific.
  5. Don’t define terms (where a specialized word is used) using “reason is,” “because,” “where,” or “when.”
  6. Avoid using very interesting, nice words that contribute little to a sentence.
  7. Prepositions are not good to end sentences with.
  8. It is a mistake to ever split an infinitive.
  9. But do not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
  10. Avoid using clichés like a bad hair day.
  11. Always, avoid attention-getting alliteration.
  12. Parenthetical remarks should (most always) be avoided.
  13. Also, never, never repeat words or phrases very, very much, too.
  14. Use words only as they are defined, no matter how awesome they are.
  15. Even if a metaphor hits the spot, it can be over-played.
  16. Resist exaggeration; it only works once in a million years.
  17. Writers should always avoid generalizations.
  18. Avoid using big words when more utilitarian words would suffice.
  19. What use are rhetorical questions?
  20. The passive voice is a form to be avoided, if it can be helped.
  21. Never write no double negatives.
  22. There are good reasons to avoid starting every sentence with There.
  23. Always, absolutely avoid overstating ideas.
  24. Keep pronoun references close to subjects in long sentences to make them clear.

I’ve developed eight writing style posters with these “rules” to teach students the key elements to effective writing style. Just click on the red button below to get this teachable resource.


Teaching Essays


The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

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