Writing in Style

Writing in style means writing clearly and gracefully. That means no awkward constructions and no unbalanced sprawl. That means cohesion between sentences and coherence from beginning to end. Writing in style is hard work: the conscious effort to clarify one’s writing comes from lots of practice.

The foremost ideologue of English writing style is Will Strunk (1869-1946). Strunkian writing is characterized by preference of short to long, active to passive, and clear to complex. The reason why Strunkian writing has so many adherents is because the ideas are simple. Will Strunk believed that anyone with a basic writing skills can (and should) write clearly, and with vigor.

The classic text of Strunkian writing is Will Strunk’s own The Elements of Style:

The Elements of Style

The Elements of Style

This book was originally written as a text for Strunk’s English class in Cornell. It is a very small book, containing only 8 rules of usage and 10 principles of composition. The rules are easy to follow, and the principles are based on common sense, rather than rigid grammarian dogma.

After Strunk’s death in 1946, the book was edited for publication by his former student, E.B. White (E.B. White would later became an accomplished essayist himself). The first edition–known as Strunk & White–was published in 1959, and more than 10 million copies were sold since then. Many college introductory writing courses use Strunk & White as text. The latest edition was published in 1999, after the death of E.B. White. However, the book lives on as the most important guidebook to English writing style.

You can read the original edition (1918) for free at http://www.bartleby.com/141/.

Another classic guidebook, in the vein of Strunk & White, is Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams. This is a guidebook on how to write clearly, and to avoid verbose and dense writing. While the original text is quite large, there is an abridged version called Style: the Basics of Clarity and Grace:

Style : The Basics of Clarity and Grace

Style : The Basics of Clarity and Grace

The abridged version is about the same size as Strunk & White, so you can read two of the best guidebooks on English writing style in less than four hours. I assure you that the time will be well spent.

However, not every writer is mad about Strunkian writing. Later on, I will introduce you to some writing guidebooks which might be referred to as “anti-Strunkian”.

You can order the books here:

Amazon.com: The Elements of Style (Paperback) by William Strunk and E.B. White

Amazon.com: Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (3rd Ed.) (Paperback) by Joseph M. Williams

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