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

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on August 15, 2009

the-elements-of-styleThe fact that controversy still attends this little book (the name originally given to it), when much of it was written ninety years ago, is evidence of its continuing relevancy and value. Indeed, the fact that writers today are debating the guidelines put forth in TEOS shows that they’ve all considered it worthwhile enough to read.

Sure, the authors (especially White) sometimes, in their own writing, would openly contradict the guidelines offered in TEOS. There are lines in the book itself that can be interpreted as contradictory: “The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity,” vs “The longest way round is usually the shortest way home.”

Clarity does not go out of style, and this book is full of advice and admonitions that every writer should heed: Why say “utilize” when there is the simple, unpretentious word use? Imply and infer are not interchangeable. An item important enough to call for etc. is probably important enough to be named.

So, if you want to be good writer, you should read TEOS, especially taking to heart advice given in the final chapter: “Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.”

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