Omit needless words.” “Be clear.” “Use the active voice.” “Do not overwrite.” These are just a few highlights from the straightforward instructions found in the classic book The Elements of Style. You may remember it, as so many do, from your high school English composition class. No matter if you graduated 40-years ago or four, this little book is as relevant and helpful today as ever.
Cornell English professor William Strunk initially published The Elements of Style privately in 1919 for his students’ use alone. E.B. White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, had been one of those very students. Years later, White would revise and add to the book, overseeing its publication in 1959 as the “Strunk and White” form we know today. The book has influenced countless would-be writers with its timeless lessons on correct grammatical usage, composition, and style.
Being able to clearly and effectively communicate is vital. No one is exempt from the necessity of writing emails or memos or proposals. Whether we’re advocating for new ideas, expressing concerns or opinions, or merely leaving a quick note on a coworker’s desk, getting your point across easily and without confusion is important. And this doesn’t even begin touch the modern world of smartphones and social media, with its 140-character tweets, Facebook updates, and dashed-off text messages.
Then, as now, writing can serve different purposes, depending on the formality of the situation. Most people today accept looser standards for text messages, say, than they do for recommendation letters or even emails. Still, the time and effort required to reacquaint ourselves with the basics of correct usage is worth it. Rereading The Elements of Style can work wonders and keeping a copy handy for quick reference can answer just about any question you have when sitting down to write.
Strunk and White’s often-funny, blunt advice will have you rethinking ingrained habits and lazy word choices. For instance, about the word “prestigious,” we’re told: “Often an adjective of last resort. It’s in the dictionary, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it.”
The illustrated edition, with 57 whimsical drawings from artist Maira Kalman, presents a new twist on this old favorite. The content’s been updated here and there, too, but only enough to make it just slightly more modern. You’ll find, for example, a few feminine pronouns and a mention of “word processors.”
Need a gift for a lover of language or budding writer in your family? Consider this illustrated version of a classic.
— LouAnn Lofton, firstname.lastname@example.org