The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

Elements of Style

Originally written by William Strunk, once an English professor at Cornel University, “The Elements of Style” was later revised by E.B White. The latter took an English course from professor Strunk thirty-eight years before he revised tis small book.

The authors tell you the basics of proper writing, the do’s and don’ts, as well as some tips to on clarity and how to keep your writing constant. I particularly enjoyed the author’s style. Whenever they instructed the reader in certain areas, such as the do’s and don’ts, it was always followed by a written example. In my case, in order for my to learn best, I need an example to go on, otherwise I tend to forget part of the lesson. Also, they explained the reason some words were better than others, for clarity and conciseness.

The authors exhort their readers to be consistent in the use of their words; like if you have a character that has a Scottish accent, be sure to be consistent in that persons speech. If he says a word one way, do not write it another way the next time he says it.

Another example of inconsistency, is when two or more characters are speaking with one another and you do not clarify who is speaking. Such inconsistency can confuse the reader, and make him or her read back several paragraphs to find who is speaking. (I have had to do this in a few books I read, it was quite annoying.)

One more admirable aspect of this small book, is that it is small. I don’t know about you, but I can read a lot of little books on writing; if its long it tends to get tiring. This small book keeps itself humorous, instructive and concise.

Seeing my growing interest in writing, my mother gave this book to me to read for school. I found it very enlightening, and saw my writing improving every time I sat down to write. The two authors do an excellent job of instructing the reader on the elements of style; I did not find it at all boring. In fact it was quite amazing to read what they had to say, and all in a short ninety-five pages.

I highly recommend this book to any and all students who write for school, or aspiring authors.


8 thoughts on “The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

  1. Yes, well, I am not really fully studying it yet. I plan to take a collage class this summer on writing. My Ima told me to read this book for school when she found I told her I was interested in writing.
    I have written one completed short story, a little boy at our church asked me to write one for him. And I am in the process of finishing another short story.

  2. I’ve been assigned multiple writing-help books via college, and this is the only one I remember anything from. I enjoy writing for personal pleasure (journals, letters, and of course book reveiws are a blast), but am inspired anew to be grammatically correct when writing.

    One thing I found interesting was the author’s emphasis on being concise. Its helpful to remember, but at the same time, can be deteremental (most exams, for example, grade you mostly on how much you write). Its interesting especailly because this is White’s only work for adults (to my knowledge). A kids book requires concision. Does an adult book benefit from being extremely concise, or not? Any thoughts?

  3. I once learned an interesting lesson that parrallels this point. It is easy to speak for long time, simply don’t prepare and don’t think through what you want to say. It is equally easy to speak for a short time. Don’t say anything of any depth; hit the highlights and go.

    But, if you want to speak with any depth and logic for a short time, you must have thought through and thoroughly researched your material. It is very hard, nay impossible, to speak concisely without much difficult work.

    Why would writing be any different? I don’t see much difference between children’s work and adult fare in this regard. An author can meander around and wander aimlessly in the plot (e.g. The Goblet of Fire; good plot, wanders around and takes forever to reach the point). Now, being concise can go to far. Consider Dekker’s Black, Red, White trilogy. Excellent books (really, a must read), but Dekker seems to publish outlines of his books and they are never quite fleshed out. It is as if Dekker has so much to write and so many ideas that he just dumps them on the page, makes them publishable (and they are good reads), but never fills them out.

    So, one can err on both sides. But, concise is better than overly wordy (think Washington Irving…).

  4. Interesting paralell, especially since I’ll be taking a public speaking class this summer. So much work goes into being concise that you’re more likely to get a good book out of the effort (and if its too long, many people don’t get far enough to understand the plot. My pet peeve books on the length front are the Anne of Green Gables series; for the reverse problem, the popular Left Behind series doesn’t go deep enough to make me care about the characters). I prefer moderate wordiness, as my ideal style. Probably a combination of being female (we average more words per day to start with) and loving history (an everlasting depth of detail beckons).

  5. Well, the Left Behind stories have as much depth as a TV sitcom script. Blech…. And WAY too much whitespace.

    That’s actually a problem for most traditional Christian novelists. I think it comes from the fact that the early Christian fiction industry was romance fiction. Double Blech. So, more talented writers in non-romance genres tended to write to similar depth. In comparison, consider Kevin J Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns or his Captain Nemo (reviewed here), you will find an author who has lots of words, but lots of plot and plenty of character development.

    But yeah, from my experience in speaking, I have found that minor preparation has me speaking for at least 30 minutes. Additional preparation will extended that longer before shortening it again. Its an interesting scale and not set in stone. It depends on your previous knowledge level of the subject, but is still generally true.

    Enjoy your class. What’s the subject matter exactly? Interpretative? General speaking? Acting? Poetry? Public speaking?

  6. What is whitespace, exactly? I’ve heard the word used, and wondered. Sounds like too many paragraphs.

    Hmm, I’ve not caught up on that aspect of the publishing industry; although I’m not surrpised, given how romance really took off as a separate genre (and sadly, the church is prone to adapting pagan cultural aspects and then Christianizing them, rather than really reforming. Its possible to have a good romance that is acceptable, its just really really really rare).

    Preparation time is good to know. Its public speaking, and the professor seems to prefer what I call the Gar Smalley method; using an object to hold your listener’s attention. I plan to do everything he says, and then decide what I’ll keep for future use on my own time (I’m not a fan of the object method. Its helpful for a short talk, or if you only have one point to make. But to introduce multiple objects gets confusing, and I forget what everything is supposed to mean. Unless there is a system for remembering the objects that are supposed to help you remember the points…..). I’m just praying its not too painful; is there a difference between general and public speaking?

  7. Whitespace is the use of blank elements on the page i.e. large margins and plenty of room between the lines. Think Spartan decorating over Victorian in the use of pictures and patterns. 🙂

    As for what I wrote, I meant to say something more like: general speaking improvement or rhetoric and public address. The first is just becoming a better speaker and the second is more of a political style. Sounds like you will be learning more of a business presentation style.

    That’s useful. If you don’t like the method per se, go find a local magic shop and learn a few simple close up effects from a magician. Have them teach you and/or just watch their handling of the audience. They are masters of keeping people focused right where they want them to be looking. 🙂 And they don’t need an object to do it. In fact from what I’ve seen/heard, the best speakers are speakers secondarily. They are first, magicians or comics or something of that nature which talents they use to draw people into and focus people on the presentation.


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