5 Bits of Writing Wisdom from Strunk and White
Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?
Posted by KAREN WOJCIK BERNER
There are many books on writing, but few have the staying power of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, commonly referred to as simply "Strunk and White." Originally penned by William Strunk Jr. in 1918 and published by Harcourt in 1920, E.B. White enlarged and revised it in 1959.
In 2011, Time named The Elements of Style one of the best and most influential books written in English since 1923. Of course, there are the naysayers, the ones who argue Strunk and White is outdated and contributed to a paranoia regarding grammar rules, while others, including myself, see it as filled with nuggets of good advice and information that’s worth picking up and re-reading from time to time.
Here are a few writing tips from The Elements of Style.
Page 34: Colloquialisms
“If you use a colloquialism or a slang word or phrase, simply use it; do not draw attention to it by enclosing it in quotation marks. To do so is to put on airs, as though you were inviting the reader to join you in a select society of those who know better.”
Page 70: Write in a way that comes naturally
“Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily at hand. But do not assume that because you have acted naturally your product is without flaw.”
|My own copy of Strunk and White, a graduation gift from my English department eons ago. |
Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner.
Page 71: Write with nouns and verbs
“Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjectives and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech….In general, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color.”
Page 72: Do not overwrite
“Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating. If the sickly-sweet word, the overblown phrase are a writer’s natural form of expression, as is sometimes the case, he will have to compensate for it by a show of vigor, and by writing something as meritorious as the Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.”
Page 80: Use figures of speech sparingly
“The simile is a common device and a useful one, but similes coming in rapid fire, one right on top of another, are more distracting than illuminating. The reader needs time to catch his breath; he can’t be expected to compare everything with something else, and no relief in sight.”
Do you have a favorite writing tip from The Elements of Style? Or any writing tips you'd like to share?
Love all the grammar tips, but don’t have time to check the blog every week? Subscribe to EFG Digest, a monthly recap of all of my Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 blog posts delivered to your inbox in one convenient newsletter. Click here to sign up.
A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.