The Elements of Style

A brilliant professor of ‘Effective Communication’ first introduced me to "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. I fell in love with the "slender volume" as soon as I’d laid my hands on it (the only copy in the college library). I wanted to own this thing of beauty, and looked for it in many bookstores. Alas, it was out of print for nearly 6 years.

Then, one day, I chanced upon it during my annual visit to the Strand sale ! And the very next day, following a twisted path of links on the Internet, I discovered that a good publisher has made available a significant part of its content online … for free !!!

Here are some excerpts :

Omit needless words

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic

A subject requires subdivision into topics, each of which should be made the subject of a paragraph. The object of treating each topic in a paragraph by itself is, of course, to aid the reader. The beginning of each paragraph is a signal to him that a new step in the development of the subject has been reached.

The extent of subdivision will vary with the length of the composition. For example, a short notice of a book or poem might consist of a single paragraph. One slightly longer might consist of two paragraphs.

Put statements in positive form

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

 

This little gem is a must-have for any student of English or effective communication. Two pages of this will do more for you than two hundred from the old ‘Wren and Martin’ or any other grammar bible you grew up reading. It is a delight to read even if you’re not looking to dive into the nuances of the English language.

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4 Comments

  1. I must admit that i am guilty of some of those mistakes.Verbiage has afflicted me.Another interesting book to read on this subject is the Economist Book of style(the title could be very different) which is used as a manual by the anonymous writers of the eminent magazine Economist.This book is published by Viva Publishers in indiaTo look for examples of good writing i would recommend the daily editorial pieces in the Hindu.May be you could recommend others. Without wanting to flatter i must say that the author of this blog has a few good pieces of writing to his credit that exemplifies good writing.The proof of that is in my repeated visits to this site to lap up the prose that is churned here besides of course the variety of topics under discussion.

  2. I agree. Most communication seems to be about what we know rather than what someone else wants to know. It seems vocabulary is also included in the same. Ingemination of lachrymosity is facile and now redundant.

  3. While i agree completely that communication is the overarching purpose of a language,some of us employ words to embellish our language which is not always to impress others about the richness of one’s word stock.one must consider that in some situations a single word or phrase may lucidly convey the thought or idea whereas plain and common english would take more space.I believe bombastic language is easily evident because of its superflousness.It is worth mentioning here that one should use words appropriately and not just stay away from those words which are not commonly understood.In summary all should strive to expand their word stock and use words with great felicity.

  4. I chanced upon the Economist Style Book a couple of months back. Fell in love. Bought it right away. The best book for someone like me who chose to bunk the grammar classes for bollywood flicks. No nouns, no verbs, just pure usaged

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