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Strunk and White's Elements of Style, the Best Writer's Guide

Updated on February 8, 2018
ecogranny profile image

A writer nearly all her life, an editor much of her adult life, Kathryn recommends one book above all others to would-be writers--This one.

Without style, they’re just words strung together

Lie or lay? Farther or further? Which or that? Affect or effect? Did I use the word correctly? A quick thumb through Strunk and White, and I'm back on track.

Of all the reference books on my shelf, Strunk and White's little book of style is by far the most dogeared and the most helpful. If I had to choose only two reference books to guide me through the twisted, often tortured world of words, or should I say my war with words, the first would be my big, five-pound, unabridged dictionary. The second, and last, (Only two remember?), would be this tiny, pencil-thin tome, frequently referred to by many writers simply as "Strunk and White."

Strunk and White Rule #17: Omit needless words!

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences.

Tiny book, big on content

Given its diminutive proportions, the book answers an astonishing number of questions about punctuation, grammar and style. Just reading the table of contents is a writing lesson in itself. In fact, you could print it out and tape it to your computer as a handy reference guide.

Take a few of the titles in Section 5, "An Approach to Style," all of which I quote verbatim.

  1. Place yourself in the background
  2. Write in a way that comes naturally
  3. Work from a suitable design
  4. Write with nouns and verbs
  5. Revise and rewrite
  6. Do not overwrite
  7. Do not overstate

All common sense, right? Yet it is so easy to forget these simple rules when we are writing.

Not only will you find the answers to everyday usage and style questions such as those above, but the authors give excellent advice for writing clearly and engagingly--and they follow their own advice so well that the book is fun to read. Or maybe I’m just that geeky.

Especially if you like to edit your work before hitting that submit button

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition
The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

If you've ever thought you would like a little help with your writing, click on the orange button below and take a look at this book. Just about every writer and author I've ever met had a copy on their desk. Doesn’t mean you need to buy it today. In fact, I’d recommend supporting your local independent book store if you decide to get a copy, but you can get a sample taste of the book using this link.

 

What is your favorite writer's guide or style manual?

See results

© 2013 Kathryn Grace

What do you think? Are you a writer? How much time do you spend writing and how much time editing what you've written? Would you use this style manual?

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    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @David Paul Wagner, thank you for weighing in here. Thought you might like to know, I own every one of those style manuals and use them, depending on what I'm writing and for whom.

    • David Paul Wagner profile image

      David Paul Wagner 

      4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I have owned a copy of Strunk and White since the 1970s and I have always appreciated its advice on how to write in a plain English style. The style manuals that you mention in your poll (e.g. The Chicago Manual of Style) are also very useful tools for writers, editors and publishers.

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @RonElFran, Even if I don't pick mine up for weeks at a time, it's always within eye-shot, if not hand-reach. Comforting, somehow.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I remember Strunk and White's from college. I still have a copy somewhere. Now, I'll have to go and find it!

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Anita Jayne Dale: Oh, oh. Now you've got me wondering whether I made a typo faux pas! Must check it out. At any rate, you gave me a good chuckle, and I agree that sometimes, at least, writing feels like a vacation.

    • Anita Jayne Dale profile image

      Anita Jayne Dale 

      4 years ago

      @ecogranny: I love Strunk and White. It was required reading for a college English class, and was well worth the time!

      Also as I was reading your comment, I misread "vocations" as "vacation" and had to laugh because writing can be like an unpaid vacation. Not a lot of money, but a lot of relaxation!

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Nancy Hardin: I agree completely, NancyCarol. There are times, in trying to find the best way to say something, or to be correct, as you say, that I have edited the life right out of a piece and had to start over. But boy, when I'm in a brain funk and can't remember whether I need to say "effect change" or "affect change," I'm glad to have the gentlemen Strunk and White at my fingertips. Thank you so much for stopping by this page and for leaving one of your thoughtful comments. I am honored.

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @sierradawn lm: You're welcome, Sierradawn. It is small, easy to read, and super easy whenever you have a question, to find the answer.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I have the book, but I can't say that I refer to it for every word I write...but then, maybe I should. LOL! I think it's possible to get so carried away with being CORRECT, that you can lose the flavor and feeling you intended to create. But I do advise that a writer always have one, because sooner or later something is going to stump you, and it's a great place to find answers. Excellent lens, thanks for sharing.

    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 

      4 years ago

      I have always wanted to be a writer and now that I am retired, I am finally able to begin, here at Squidoo. I have not heard of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. I can see that it is a tool that I need for success in my endeavors. Thank you!

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @anonymous: Sounds like we share an avid respect for Mr. Strunk and Mr. White. Thank you for visiting.

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 

      5 years ago

      This is such a great reference book that I have to admit don't use it enough. Thank you for the reminder. I do like to read E.B. White's essays. He's enjoyable to read and is an inspiration.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      4 years ago

      Strunk and White is the classic, no doubt about it. If you're even half-way serious about writing you need to buy this book.

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      @Kim Milai: Yes, and quite often he is hilarious as well. Thank you for the visit.

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      @cmadden: Sadly, we no longer have a kitty, but I'm with you on the other two all the way. Always happy to find another S&W user. Thank you for sharing that visual.

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      @SamuraiMarine: Keep writing! Writing is one of those vocations that seldom pays well, unless you get lucky enough to hit the jackpot, and there's no chance of getting that lucky unless you keep at it. Thank you for stopping by, and for leaving the very first comment here.

    • profile image

      cmadden 

      5 years ago

      I was first introduced to this book as a senior in high school, and have used it ever since. There are three must-haves by my computer: a place for my tea; Strunk and White; and a kitty perch.

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      @Sable: You're welcome. It's a handy thumb reference, though I admit I read it cover to cover the first time I picked it up years ago.

    • profile image

      Sable 

      5 years ago

      I've seen this book a thousand times and have never taken the time to open the cover, let alone read it. Your post makes me realize I'll likely improve my book in progress if I crack it open! Thanks!

    • SamuraiMarine profile image

      Samuel Wright 

      5 years ago from Bakersfield, Ca.

      EOS was one of the first "Gifts" I was given as a youngster that book. I will be honest, it was not something I was happy about. But since that day, more years ago than I would care to admit, I have gone through three of them.

      I do not wring as much as I would like to. I have run a blog for almost ten years now and had a few small items published in a local news paper that is now defunct, so I am still having to keep my day job. It is my hope that this will not be the case forever.

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