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Getting Smarter through Language

Four Types of Writing

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Advanced Level

We write for different purposes. We create lists and tables to share the information or to remember it later. We write business proposals to focus the reader’s attention on important details about a project, outline steps and procedures, and perhaps convince the reader that our ideas are worthwhile. We write stories to entertain our readers and share our experiences or present an important life lesson.

These are only a few examples of how we can use writing to communicate ideas.

Depending on what and why we write, we end up with different formats or types of writing that are appropriate for the task. You could write a recipe in the form of a poem. That would be an interesting way to express your creativity, but such a format might not be the most effective way to communicate the necessary information. Similarly, writing a short story may not be the most effective way to convince your employer that you deserve a promotion.

Choosing the right type of writing is important so that your message is conveyed the most effectively. Let’s go over the four main types of writing.

Five Types of Writing

The five types of writing are expository, narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and reflective. Let’s go over each type and its main characteristics and where you are likely to find each type of writing. They can vary purpose, tone, and the type of materials they are generally appropriate for.

Expository or Informative Writing

In expository or informative writing, you present (or “expose”) facts to explain and inform the reader. Expository writing focuses on conveying information to the reader.

Tone. In general, the tone of expository writing is objective and instructional though writers have creative freedom to change the tone for their own purpose.

Type of materials. Expository writing is typically found in news articles; textbooks and training materials; scientific and business reports; and instructional, how-to articles, and explainers.

Narrative Writing

In narrative writing, you tell a story to present information to the readers as a sequence of events. Narrative writing involves elements of storytelling such as characters, a plot, setting, conflict and resolution and contains a message or “the moral of the story.”

Whereas you should avoid the first person point of view in formal or academic writing (i.e., using first person pronouns such as I, we, me, us), using first person pronouns in narrative writing actually brings the writer closer to the story and the topic.

Tone. In storytelling, writers have a great deal of flexibility to the tone that is most appropriate to the message (e.g., serious, joyous, mournful, passionate, and so on).

Type of materials. Materials where narrative writing is appropriate include jokes; oral histories; creative essays; novels, short stories, and poems; memoirs; and anecdotes.


In the descriptive style of writing, you create an image in the readers’ minds to convey the essence of a person, place, situation, emotion, and so on.

Rich descriptions evoke the readers’ senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. This often creates an emotional, vicarious connection with the topic.

Though not necessarily, descriptive writing can use the first person point of view, particularly when the writer wants to show an emotional connection to the topic.

Tone. The tone tends to be objective for the sake of clarity; however, you can be creative and use different tones (it is all about what communicates the intended message best).

Type of materials. Descriptive writing is often found in product descriptions; first-person accounts such as journal and blog writing; memoirs; descriptions of nature, a product, or travel destination; and so on; recipes or tutorials.

Persuasive Writing

In persuasive writing, your goal is to convince or (a) to persuade your readers to change their minds, viewpoints, or beliefs or (b) to persuade your readers to do something.

Tone. In order to persuade your readers, you must present a convincing, logical argument. You must move your readers to buy something, which could be a concept, an idea, or an actual product.

Type of materials. You commonly find persuasive writing in advertisements, opinion articles or editorials, (political) speeches, product reviews, sales pitches, letters of recommendation, and business proposals.

Reflective Writing

In reflective writing, you share your own inner thoughts, ideas, and experiences.

Tone. By nature, the tone of reflective writing is usually personal. It generally reflects myriad emotional states by the writer.

Type of materials. You commonly find reflective writing in personal blogs, diaries, student portfolions, and so on.

Mixed Rhetorical Modes in Writing

There are no elements that you will find only in one type of writing or another. You should choose the best possible way to express your ideas to the reader.

Let’s say you are writing a persuasive essay. You can include elements from narrative and expository writing as long as they help you make your point and convince your readers.

For example, you can do the following:

  1. Tell a story (as you would in narrative writing) to frame the issue and propose a solution or course of action.
  2. Then present statistical or factual evidence (as you would in expository writing) to support your solution.
  3. Ultimately, conclude with your persuasive claim for the solution you want to convince the reader is the best one.

In that sense, types of writing refer to a passage or written work as a whole rather than a particular mode of writing such as listing information, providing examples, comparing and contrasting, and so on.

Rhetorical Modes of Writing has information about how you can organize information in paragraphs.

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