- Books, Literature, and Writing
Strunk & White - The Elements of Style
Improve your Writing with The Elements of Style
Any student who has studied writing, and any person with a serious desire to become a published author will be familiar with the small, but important handbook known as "The Elements of Style ." The first edition was privately published by author William Strunk, Jr. in 1918. Strunk was a Cornell University professor. Many years later, E.B. White, a former student of Strunk, discovered the book in 1957. He wrote an article for The New York Times in which he praised Professor Strunk for his "lucid" English prose. At that time, Strunk had already passed away. But the interest that the Times article sparked led to a commission by MacMillian and Company to Mr. White to republish a new version in 1959.
In case you were wondering - yes, this is the same E.B. White that authored Charlotte's Web , among other award-winning books.
Even if you have already reviewed the so called "writer's bible" , you may wish to refresh your memory on many of the key instructional points on proper grammar usage and punctuation in the English language. The original book itself was only 43 pages long, and one of its primary points is the case for brevity in writing. Among many abominations: "omit needless words," and "make every word tell." Today, somewhat ironically, the book has grown to over 80 pages in length, not including a forward, afterward, glossary and index. The forward is authored by White's stepson, Roger Angell.
The Writer's Bible
Elements of Style Books
Key Tips from Elements of Style
1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's.
2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
4. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.
5. Do not join independent clauses with a comma.
6. Do not break sentences in two.
7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.
8. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.
9. The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.
10. Use the proper case of pronoun.
11. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
12. Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
14. Use the active voice.
15. Put statements in positive form.
16. Use definite, specific, concrete language.
17. Omit needless words.
18. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
19. Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
20. Keep related words together.
21. In summaries, keep to one tense.
22. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.
23. Revise and rewrite.
24. Do not overwrite.
25. Do not overstate.
26. Avoid the use of qualifiers.
27. Do not affect a breezy manner.
28. Use orthodox spelling.
29. Do not explain too much.
30. Do not construct awkward adverbs.
31. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.
32. Avoid fancy words.
33. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.
34. Be clear.
35. Do not inject opinion.
36. Use figures of speech sparingly.
37. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.
Pick up a Copy of Elements of Style
For more explanations about this guidance, you really should pull a copy of The Elements of Style. I would recommend going to your local library to check out an edition, but you will want to refer to this book so often, its best just to get your own copy.
Better yet, there is now an illustrated edition, with drawings by Maria Kalman, which give some perspective to many of Strunk's rules. Some of the pictures are shown on the right. All editions of the books can be found on the links shown above.
If you tighten your writing and make it more concise, you can make your point in fewer words. This should lead to more effective writing overall. I challenge you, as well as myself, to review and implement at least 3 of these rules in the next written work that you publish. Remember that publishing generally means putting out in the public domain. A letter to your mother, a post on a blog, and issuing a report for your company all can qualify as "publication." In other words, unless you keep your written words completely to yourself, you have probably published them, legally speaking.
Its safe to say that Strunk & White's handbook will probably be one of the main foundations in the library of writers for the foreseeable future. Once you review the rules and get a better understanding for proper usage of the English language, you should see why.