the elements of style
william strunk jr. and e. b. white
“Vigorous writing is concise.” Concise writing emerges when we repress our inner-writer and become an editor—an editor who can winnow elaborate composition into pithy text. Elements of Style wastes no words in showing us how.
Writing must serve the reader. Yet, we alienate readers when we engage them with confusing prose. Elements of Style cures that confusion with concrete rules, principles, and examples.
Its advice spans words, grammar, and composition. Each chapter gives a rule, covers its variations, and clarifies it with examples. The simpler rules feel obvious and give our writing hope. The deeper rules compel us to evolve.
Stunk and White put good writing within reach and great writing within sight. They deserve gratitude from readers everywhere.
This foundational book on editing is unapologetically brief. Here is its message: writing should be concise, concise writing follows rules, follow them until you know them, then break them when advantageous.
I found some of the rules mundane, but others have forced my writing to evolve. One rule, for example, urges writers to start sentences with meaningful words and end them with their most prominent concept. The end of a sentence, in other words, grabs the reader and grants words a certain power. Another rule clarifies old advice that I’ve always found burdensome. “Use the active voice” is dogmatically restrictive. Elements of Style helped me understand that rule well enough to know when it can be broken. Active verbs imbue writing with vigor, but their overuse can bombard the reader. Linking verbs are helpful—every sentence need not be vigorous. Words can be placed in prominent sentence positions using passive verbs.
Get Elements of Style. Read it twice. Keep it nearby.
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