Project Gutenberg collection, dating from as early as 1550, and looked at how individual words have been used by authors in the past.
The team, from Dartmouth College in Hanover, have shown how the use of content-free 'joining' words, such as to and that, indicates style most closely.
Mathematician Daniel Rockmore says two different authors would probably use the same nouns to describe similar events, but they 'glue' them together in different ways.
The researchers have used their findings to show that writers are influenced by what they read, but they are most likely to write like their contemporaries.
In the earliest publications, writers contructed their works in very similar fashion. The team expected that, because the writers would have had access to only a small body of literature, which they probably had all read.
More recently, even though writers have works from many different eras to choose from and have probably read a number of classics, they are still most likely to write like their contemporaries. They tend not to write like past authors, even if they are writing historical fiction.