Style in writing defies easy definition. That makes it hard to talk about, and harder to master. The ancient rhetoricians grouped style into three categories: the high or florid style (used to entertain, as in literature); the middle or forcible style (used in political discourse); and the plain or low style (suitable for instruction). In a previous article I gave an overview of the three styles; in this article and in a recent podcast episode I focus on the plain style.
First, let's clear up the confusion between style as linguistic element and style as cultural display. Plain style, because it is utilitarian and accessible by most, historically was associated with the lower classes in society. For our purposes, let's just ignore that association. The plain style, as it is used today, dominates communication. Speaking plainly and writing clearly matter across class boundaries.
Most workplace writing should be written in the plain style. But what is the plain style? Here are some characteristics: