Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
SUCCESS STORIES / JUL. 09, 2014
version 2, draft 2

A Writer's Treasure – The Elements of Style

Writing is not an easy task. This is true for all writers, even those who write all the time. A great resource that was recommended to me by a fellow writer and which I have found to be extremely useful is "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.

This is a very old book. It was privately published in 1918 by William Strunk Jr. for in-house use at Cornell University. It was later revised for formal publication in 1935. The book was picked up by E.B. White in 1957 and he further revised it for a 1959 Edition. According to White, this "little book" is a "forty-three page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy and brevity in the use of English". . Time Magazine has listed "The Elements of Style" as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.

The concepts outlined in it are a must-read for all established and aspiring writers. It is also an exremely useful resource for journalism and communciations students. The style guide presented by Strunk comprises of eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused (writers, you cannot miss this list!). I love how Strunk talks about the word "meaningful. He considers it to be "a bankrupt adjective and suggests rephrasing or replacing it with some other word.

Some of the greatest advice I’ve ever read on improving my writing skills come from this book. These include making every word tell and omitting needless words. According to the author, a sentence should contain no unnecessary words and a paragraph should contain no unnecessary sentences. Sentences should be short but every word that you use should tell something to your reader. There are many useful tips on improving one’s writing style such as placing yourself in the background; writing in a way that comes naturally; working from a suitable design; writing with nouns and verbs; not overwriting or overstating etc. Everything is explained with examples

From the use of apostrophes, hyphens and commas to the use of conjunctions and parenthetic expressions, you will find everything in this little guide book. The section on elementary principles of composition is quite interesting. The author advises writers to choose a basic structural design and then follow it throughout. The concept is that you may deviate from your design but the inherent scheme of your initial idea should remain intact.

The importance of using the active voice and of using definite, specific and concrete language is also emphasized by White. According to Strunk, "the surest way to arouse and hold the reader’s attention is by being specific, definite and concrete. The greatest writers - Homer, Dante, Shakespeare - are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures." Great advice indeed.

One of my favorite sections in this book is "A Few Matters of Form". As a writer, my weakness is the excessive use of the mark of exclamation. You may find a demonstration of this writing ailment of mine in this article as well. Strunk however recommends that one should not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation. The exclamation mark should be reserved for use after "true" exclamations or commands. This is something I need to remember for sure! (Uh oh!)

This little dusty book is my absolute favorite. It is clear, brief and bold. Like anything else that is great and bold in this world, this book has received its share of criticism. Some consider it be prescriptivist in nature; others have said that the book is a toxic mix of purism, atavism and personal eccentricity (seriously?). There are some professors who claim that the book does not understand "passive voice" and some have gone so far as to say that this is a book "that ate America’s brain". Yes. Sure. What was it that Eli Wallach said about critics? "Having the critics’ praise you is like having the hangman say you’ve got a pretty neck."

I really don’t care what critics have to say. I’m a writer. I have critics too. If I took every critic seriously, I would probably never write again. I love this book. I would call upon all aspiring writers (and established ones too) to read this book if they haven’t already. It’s an absolute treasure.

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