Monday, August 15, 2011

Do Your Elements Have Style?

Every writer needs style, right?  One way to develop fabulous style is to tap great resources. The Elements of Style is one of my all time favorite resources.

Thought I would share the following review, just in case you aren't acquainted with it. This review first appeared on the Coffeehouse for Writers blog.

The Elements of Style

By William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White 

The Elements of Style is small enough to fit into a pocket or purse.  Yet it is packed to the brim with great advice for writers. How did Strunk and White manage this feat? I’m not sure, but I’m glad they did.

The introduction contains E.B. White’s take on the background of how the book came about. While not an absolute must read portion of the book, I found his insight interesting as he points out the timeless advice within the book, and tells us how he became acquainted with Mr. Strunk. 

Chapter One, entitled Elementary Rules of Usage, reminds us about the proper handling of things like possessives, commas, conjunctions, pronouns, and participial phrases, to name a few. For example, years ago I referred to this chapter to brush up on my semicolon use. Do you use it with an independent clause or a dependant clause? Sure enough, problem solved. 

Composition is addressed in Chapter Two, with Elementary Principles of Composition.  Here the authors tell us to “Choose a suitable design and hold to it.” They encourage us to organize our thoughts, transferring them in like manner for the reader to understand. Active voice and passive voice are discussed, as are tenses and tight writing. This chapter contains my favorite piece of advice, where they tell us:

“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. ”

A Few Matters of Form highlight Chapter Three, with a discussion of colloquialisms, exclamations, margins, numerals, quotations and more. Chapter Four elaborates on commonly misused words and expressions, telling us, for instance, when to use allude and elude and other oft-confused words.

Chapter Five closes with An Approach to Style, and includes a handy list of reminders. Awkward adverbs and overstating a point are among the rest of the helpful principles addressed in the final pages.

I purchased this book for my children when they were in middle school. Little did I realize how appropriate it is for students and adults. This book is 100% user friendly and is proof that good things really do come in small packages. If my copy ever wears out, I’m buying a new one.

What resources are your must-haves? 

Happy writing,


Photo Credit: Stock Exchange


  1. Hi Karen .. The Elements of Style is the one everyone defers to .. good to be able to read the review here ..

    Cheers and thanks for the overview - Hilary

  2. These days whenever I need to check something I just use the internet. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not.

    Moody Writing

  3. I have this book but it didn't end up being one of my must have books. I don't know why b/c it is useful. I think there are many books that are must reads but it depends on what someone struggles with as a writer.

  4. I don't have that one, although I've referenced the Chicago Manual of Style before.

  5. Hilary,
    It is one of those timeless resources, you know? And being so small, you can take it anywhere. :)
    Have a happy week!

    I do this sometimes too. I don't think it's a bad thing. I just know that this book usually answers my questions so I grab it first without thinking. And in the case of power outages! lol

    Well, I think we all do like you said, gravitate toward what helps our weak areas. There are so many great resources out there!

    Now there's a helpful one too. It's mind boggling all the help at our fingertips, you know?

    Happy Monday,

  6. You always have such great info. here Karen. But what do you mean, a machine doesn't have spare parts? If I take it apart I promise it will be put back together and have SPARE parts. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  7. Hi Karen,

    Had the book. Read it , loved it and promptly lost it during several moves over the years:( A great mainstay for writers-
    Will p/u another copy.


  8. Thank you for the tips, very helpful for me. As for reference, I use the I cutting corners?!

  9. Strunk and White was the first book I bought when I decided to start writing fiction. It was a great book with tips. I loved it!

  10. Jules,
    Okay, well you have a point. Apparently Strunk and White never took anything apart. B/c anyone who ever has knows there is a fair chance that there will be an extra part or two. Let's just say they come from the manufacturer that way - that must have been what they meant! :D

    I agree, this is one treasure I'd hate to lose! Hope you find another soon. :)

    You are welcome! No, not cutting corners I don't think. It's just a handy reference to have at your fingertips. :)

    I know, it's a great thing to keep around. I love it too.

    Happy Monday,

  11. My copy's starting to look old. I should replace it but why? The new one will just end up looking old too. Then I'll have two old Elements of Style and people will begin to wonder whether I'm so dense I need a book for each hand. Hmm. I do have a mental block when it comes to commas. I don't get commas.

    Great post, Karen!

  12. This seems to be the shining example of books on writing (and how can anyone doubt the genius of EB White?). I'm embarrassed to say I don't own a copy. Maybe it's time.

  13. Enough fellow writers recommended this book to me that I finally purchased my own copy when I saw it in a secondhand bookstore, though I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Maybe I should crack it open and look for some ideas to help the students I'm tutoring (and me too!).

  14. Joylene,
    Good point. Just tell people it is well loved! :) Commas are kind of strange sometimes; I'll think I have it right only to see that I don't!

    Maybe it is! They are pretty inexpensive, so it wouldn't break the bank. :)

    Thank you. Nice to meet you; thanks for following. Will check out your blog.

    It might be worth it; that's how I often use it - for tutoring. It has rescued me from many jams. :)

    Happy Monday,

  15. One of my must-have resources is a thesaurus. I love when I find just that perfect word to get a point across. :)

    Hope you have a great week, Karen!

  16. In college (mid 80's) we had a similar small red book that was required. We wore that book out just for college papers it is definately a MUST have.

  17. Hi Karen -

    I have this book, and find it quite useful. Recently, I picked up English Through The Ages. It's a must for historical writers.

    Susan :)

  18. Sarah,
    Yes, a thesaurus is a must! I will sometimes use, but I prefer to crack open the actual book. :)

    I have a similar book from my kids' college days. I use it for teaching the teen research paper class.

    I need to get that one! It would avoid too many calls your way to check on things. :)


  19. I hate to admit it like some of the folks on here but ill go to the internet as well for info. I do check other sites to make sure something jives. Richard from Amish Stories.

  20. This little gray manual was the first book I purchased when I apprehensively began tip-toeing around the big, intimidating world of writing. Wow. So much useful information concisely organized into a book I carried around in my diaper bag, reading a few pages at a time whenever and where ever I could.

    There is a reason this book has stayed relevant and informative through the years--it is intelligently structured to help you get the most information out of the least number of pages. I love it. A must have, indeed!

    Have a lovely week.

  21. How ironic to me, Karen, that I popped over to read this post. Elements of Style. I had this when I was in college, WAAAY back in 1960. But recently I was "gifted" by a Blogger with an early hardback edition of it. It is one of the best, IMO. I don't need any other reference book on the subject!

    Hope you're having a wonderful week!!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

  22. Richard,
    Oh, I think we all do! Some of us just like the resources at our fingertips in a different way. :)

    It is a great resource, and so timeless! Still can't figure out how all that info is packed in. :)

    Good to see you. :) I know, it really is like one stop shopping for grammar!


  23. I think the best resource book I ever bought was GMC by Dixon!

  24. Karen,
    Just wanted to thank you for stopping by Rel's and leaving such gracious comments. You have a beautiful blog and a way with words! Bless you,

  25. Terri,
    Thanks for the heads up on that one. Will have to check it out!

    Thanks so much your kind words and for for stopping by. I am a big fan of your writing!



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