Writing Styles Revisited (What is Yours?)

If you were to liken your personal writing to that of a famous author, who would you name? Are you similar to Emily Dickinson, or are you an echo of Charles Dickens?

Perhaps your words flow like Shakespeare’s or erupt in staccato, like Hemingway’s. If you are a member of a writing critique group – which I highly recommend – your friends may have offered their own suggestions about authors you resemble.

It just so happens there are a couple of tools that can offer hints as to the answer to this question. When I looked back at an earlier post on this subject, I was shocked to find I had written it all the way back in 2012. Yes, I know some of you were in grammar school then.

I shared then a site which was relatively new. The “I Write Like” site invites you to submit samples of your writing, which it compares to a range of famous authors. I am curious to try the process today, since the programmer continued to update it until 2016. Perhaps my results will be different than those from 2012.

Programs such as this are frankly quite limited. For those of you interested in the programmer who designed this one, you can check out an interview conducted when it was initially released. In the interview, Dmitry Chestnykh explains how his “algorithm is not a rocket science, and you can find it on every computer today. It’s a Bayesian classifier, which is widely used to fight spam on the Internet.”

My Own Results

I’m unsure how many authors our Russian friend has included in the comparison files. It does include historical and contemporary authors. I have no idea whether my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, found his way into the database or not. My results do reveal, however, that at least one of his fellow Inklings did make the cut.

Without further conversation, allow me to share the results from my experiment nearly a decade ago.

Make sure you include lengthy selections from your work. Also, testing the program with different genres (assuming you write in different styles) will actually give you new matches. (That is, of course, as it should be.)

I tried a number of times (no, not fishing for results I wanted, but using a variety of types of my writing) and here were the repeated results:

For my blog posts: H.P. Lovecraft or J.R.R. Tolkien
For my more formal essays: J.R.R. Tolkien or Jonathan Swift

These were admirable results with which I have been happy to live. Thus, it is with some trepidation that I revisited the astonishing program today. And the results – For my blog posts: Arthur C. Clarke – For my more formal essays: Ditto.

Very interesting. Aside from the possibility that the program has been contaminated by some spaceborne virus, or intemperate Clarkean fans, I have to assume that Clarke may have been added after my initial venture into the unfathomable world of I Write Like.

In case any of you try out the program, I’d enjoy hearing your results – especially if they are someone other than a science fiction writer who died in 2008.

Another Way to Look at Writing Styles

There are a multitude of different elements involved in assessing a writer’s style – that which constitutes your “voice.” Vocabulary, sentence length, cadence, tone and a myriad of additional elements meld together in unique ways.

As David Downing’s fine article on C.S. Lewis’ advice to writers points out, the skilled writer considers how their words “sound.”

Lewis also believed that one should always write for the ear as well as for the eye. He recommended that a piece of prose be read aloud, to make sure that its sounds reinforce its sense.

Naturally, when we write for different audiences or purposes our voice can shift accordingly. That is why I fed the program selections from my blogs and my more considered essays. And, if they differ somewhat, you can imagine how distinctive my devotions are from my catechesis, or my fiction from my satire.

Speaking of satire, check out my recent report on Chinese Olympic results and the Uyghur people published last week in the Damascus Dropbear, a site similar to the Babylon Bee from the Land Down Under.

Back now to a second online program for assessing one’s writing. It can be found on a curious site called MySocialBrain. There you can participate in a variety of “research projects” that forfeit structured controls for broader access. The scientific benefit is obviously debatable, but the personal insights may well be beneficial.

One study entitled “Who do you write like?” compares the writing you submit with a number of famous authors. (As with “I Write Like,” your text is not retained on the system. Likewise, neither site requires that you enter your name or any other identifying information.)

This research project focuses narrowly on one dimension of stylometric study, a field explored in great depth in “Quantitative Patterns of Stylistic Influence in the Evolution of Literature,” available online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

MySocialBrain bases its study on a reasonable premise. “Despite the seemingly ineffable qualities of style, great progress has been made in measuring writing quantitatively. This process, known as stylometry, can identify the influence of one writer on another or reveal the author of unattributed work.”

You can have your writing compared to that of others at this site.

I used two different samples of my writing (blog, then essay) and came up with fairly similar results. I haven’t read much from every one of these authors, but my gut suggests there may be a valid correlation here. And that impression is reinforced by how little correlation my submission had with the writing of Beatrix Potter, R.M. Ballantyne and Baroness Orczy (of whom I had never heard).

If you have a few free minutes, and are curious about what this stylometry tool might conclude about your writing, give it a try.

The cartoon at the top of this column is used with the permission of its talented creator, Jonny Hawkins. He is both talented and prolific. Enjoy a humorous jaunt through his personal website today.

23 thoughts on “Writing Styles Revisited (What is Yours?)

  1. Dear Reverend Stroud,

    I am certainly very curious of what you personally think of my writing style(s) as seen in my lengthy post called The Quotation Fallacy “💬”, and another more recent one called “Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity“.

    In addition, I also wonder what you make of the latter in terms of its content.

    Wishing you a very happy and satisfactory weekend!

    Yours sincerely,

      1. Infinite Jest is the sort of postmodern literature that fails to inspire my interest. (No offense intended.) However, as an over-explainer by nature, I do find the idea that he includes 388 endnotes appealing.

        The fact that some of the endnotes even have their own footnotes makes me smile, simply thinking about it.

  2. dolphinwrite

    There’s something different about each writer, so it’s difficult to compare, for my interests vary from time to time. Here’s what I have: 1) I read all of Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” books because the style of writing seemed like warp speed, and he had a way of creating action with dialogue. His last books I didn’t like as much. 2) C.S. Lewis, I enjoy, for I’ve also learned of his education and background. 3) Louis Lamour> Over time, I’ve learned this is a man who incorporates vast experiences and readings into his books. It’s like reading a story and getting a history lesson, and the books are fast reads. 4) Nate Shiransky, and 5) Among so many others, I enjoyed Clive Cussler, Ayn Rand (Incredible details with quality characters.), and Bill Watterson.

    1. I like the way you recognize exactly what it is that you appreciate in the various writers. Too many people ascribe their preferences to ineffable considerations.

      Now, how have those diverse influences helped shape your own writing..?

      1. dolphinwrite

        I used to write, even a couple of stories, but I discovered that I didn’t have what publishers were looking for, though one did try working with me before a career. But the various voices and techniques did influence the way I wrote. However, I appreciate, having attempted, good writers. I used to promote writing as a teacher, educating the students about character and scene panels in developing their tales, then had them write out their tales. I gathered my experience, though I won’t be a published writer, might encourage some students to pursue, and perhaps a couple might find their voice while others enjoy writing fun tales. Have you written much?

      2. Teaching writing is fun. I’ve helped teach most of my grandchildren the joy that comes from writing. That is quite rewarding in and of itself.

        Today it’s quite possible to self-publish with minimal expense. I haven’t done so myself, but know quite a few folks who have. I can’t advise on the process, but if you connect with a local critique group, you might find some writers locally who have personal experience.

        I personally have written many things, but have yet to finish a book. I imagine that day will come. Whether it is through a traditional publisher or not… we shall see.

      3. Interesting you would say that. When my family used to ask why I enjoyed writing, I finally realized it’s not the writing process I enjoy (although I find the researching enjoyable).

        For me, I write because I “like to have written.” In other words, the satisfaction comes from having completed the activity. If others enjoy it, that’s the proverbial icing on the cake.

      4. dolphinwrite

        You know. When I started blogging, I didn’t want to go through thinking about support or money, as many bloggers are doing, which also explains the lack of real thinking in many, or many doing it for emotional self approval (I know. $10 words.). If I did that, I’d be lying or diffusing. Not following the rabbit as I often share. Better to write: just write. If anyone gets it, then maybe they’ll bring their own understanding… I’d much rather learn something than otherwise.

    1. True. And it seems to me that our style or voice unconsciously grows or evolves during our lives. So the way we write today may be measurably different from our writing five years ago or a decade from now.

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