Refers to the choice of words and phrases by a speaker or writer, and includes the formality of the language, as well as the emotional content, the imagery and specificity, and the sounds of the words.

Effective diction is situational—there is no one correct way of using the language for all situations. An author may deliberately use colloquial language in one situation and formal language in another. In fiction and drama, authors vary the diction for various characters.

A variety of choices combine to create an author’s diction, including:

  • level of formality: language may be formal, informal, colloquial, or slang
  • the denotations—the specific literal meanings of the words used, and their connotations—the emotional implication words may carry (connotations, for example, contribute to the tone of a piece of writing by revealing the author’s attitude toward a subject)
  • the use of concrete words—words that refer to objects or events that can be perceived through the senses—to create imagery (as opposed to abstract words such as love, freedom, success, happiness)
  • the use of specific terms to create similar images and associations among readers (as opposed to general terms that make writing seem vague and hard to interpret)
  • the deliberate use of sound devices (e.g., alliteration, consonance, assonance) to create specific effects


Syntax refers to how writers construct individual sentences to achieve particular effects, such as emphasis or a slower or faster pace. Syntax involves three main elements: sentence length (shorter and longer); sentence structure (simple, compound, complex, and compound/complex); and sentence pattern (placement of subjects, verbs, objects, and complements).

Effective writing demonstrates variety in each of these main elements. Working in a small group, use the form below to analyze the syntax of a passage of three or four paragraphs from a text. What effect does the writer achieve with the examples of syntax you have chosen?

Voice and Style

Voice is the distinctive identity or personality a writer reveals. That voice comes through in the writer’s particular writing style. Style is the result of the decisions a writer makes, such as word choice, use of figurative language, and sentence structure.

Below are some criteria and questions to help you analyze a writer’s voice and style and compare it with a piece of your own writing in the same genre.

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