Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Elements of Style

Recently I picked up William Strunk's Elements of Style. I had not looked at it in years, and I was struck by its relevance. Admidst the verbal anarchy of email and the blogosphere, this book provides an oasis of clarity. In 71 pages, Strunk dismisses the pompous, the passive and the indefinite.

On page 14 "There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground" becomes "Dead leaves covered the ground." On Page 15, "A period of unfavorable weather set in," becomes "It rained every day for a week." And on page 35, "In many cases, the rooms were poorly ventilated, " becomes "Many of the rooms were poorly ventilated."

Mr. Strunk, a friend and teacher of E.B. White, wrote, "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecesary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

All writers should read and reread this little book.


  1. Linda, I consider Elements of Style required reading!! A classic.

  2. Definitely one of my favorite books -- ever!

    I keep it near my desk and often pick it up and read a random page. I love those constant reminders.

  3. The only thing better than the original Elements of Style is the 2005 edition with illustrations by Maira Kalman. Her humorous, skilled illustrations are a plus - especially the one picturing a sentence fragment.