Today is the birthday of William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1946), the principal author of The Elements of Style. This book, also known as Strunk & White, is the single most influential style guide ever written, selling over ten million copies. Strunk originally published the book as an instructional pamphlet for his students at Cornell University in 1918, but it didn’t gain its great notoriety until after it was revised and published by Strunk’s former student E. B. White in 1959.
One of Strunk’s recommendations, which dates from the original 1918 edition, still holds today as one of the most insightful things ever said about the characteristics of effective writing:
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.
This passage not only proclaims one of the key principles of effective writing, it also exemplifies it, by omitting needless words. Below is a list of Stuck and White’s other Principles of Composition, each of which is explained in The Elements of Style:
- Choose a suitable design and stick to it.
- Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
- Use the active voice.
- Put statements in positive form.
- Use definite, specific, concrete language.
- Omit needless words.
- Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
- Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
- Keep related words together.
- In summaries, keep to one tense.
- Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.
Today’s Challenge: What’s Your Primary Principle for Proper Prose?
What would you argue is the single most important rule for effective writing? Select one of the 11 principles from Struck and White, or come up with your own. Then, support your rule by explaining it in detail along with showing examples where appropriate. (Common Core 2 – Expository)
Quote of the Day: The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up. –E. B. White