“Use definite, specific, concrete language. Omit needless words.” says William Strunk Jr. In his extraordinary 71-page book Elements of Style (New York: Macmillan, 1959), he follows his own advice as he steers writers around potential grammatical potholes. And Strunk’s rules – simple directives with examples to illustrate what works and why – apply to research papers, essays, short stories, novels, nonfiction works, business communications, and every other kind of writing.
Do you always need to stop and think when to use commas? You’ll find this answer and many others in the chapter Elementary Rules of Usage. Not sure when to start or end a paragraph? In Elementary Principles of Composition, you’ll learn “how to choose a suitable design” for your writing, the skinny on paragraphs, appropriate handling of dialogue, and how using active voice and positive statements make your work “more direct and vigorous.”
In A Few Matters of Form, Strunk talks about when to use colloquialisms, parentheses, exclamation marks, numbers, and more. In Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, he identifies several dozen of these which “are not so much bad English as bad style, the commonplaces of careless writing.”
Celebrated author E.B. White, who once studied under Professor Strunk added to this revised edition of Elements the chapter An Approach to Style. In it, he offers “suggestions and cautionary hints that may help the beginner find his way to a satisfactory style.” Among the 21 recommendations in this section are the following: “Write in a way that comes naturally. Do not explain too much. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking. Avoid fancy words. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity. Do not overwrite. Do not overstate. Be clear.”
In the new introduction he also wrote for that edition, White noted, “Will felt that the reader was in serious trouble most of the time, a man floundering in a swamp, and that it was the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain this swamp quickly and get his man up on dry ground, or at least throw him a rope.”
To keep your readers on dry ground, add The Elements of Style to your writer’s toolkit.