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*A Book Review*

The Elements of Style

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

by Michael C. Gray

February 28, 2003

My first memory of The Elements of Style is receiving a copy for my advanced placement English class as a freshman in high school.

I thought it was odd to receive this book, but never have an assignment to study anything in it. Evidently the teacher thought the exercise was like passing out a dictionary in the fourth grade.

At the urging of copywriter John Carlton, I finally got the fourth edition and cracked it open to see what's inside.

I was delighted to learn the co-author, E.B. White, is the same person who wrote the children's classics, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. He also wrote the "Notes and Comment" page of The New Yorker for many years.

At the end of the First World War, E.B. White was a student in Professor William Strunk, Jr.'s English 8 class at Cornell University. Professor Strunk had self-published a 43-page handbook that was enormously popular on campus affectionately known as "The Little Book."

In 1957, E.B. White was asked by Macmillan Publishing to update the book and his name was joined with his professor's in what many consider to be an indispensable reference for better writing. Together, they created a huge best seller about a subject many believe is mundane. I think the reason is many people realize that clear writing is an essential skill for success in education, business and most other fields.

The book includes sections on basic grammar rules, how to structure your piece, commonly misused words and expressions, and an approach to style.

I always get confused with the language of grammar. Words like "participle" and "infinitive" boggle my mind. The authors of this book include lots of examples, some of them humorous, to help get the point across. This is crucial for the book to be a useful reference.

Many of the examples show two or more ways of writing an expression, often highlighting how to eliminate unnecessary words or change the structure of a sentence to make your writing more crisp and clear.

The purpose of The Elements of Style is not the slavish conformity to rules, but learning to use the rules to help authors to better communicate their ideas in a way that other people will want to read and will be better able to understand. Ultimately, a writer should develop his or her own style, writing as a form of self-expression.

If you don’t already have a copy, you should add The Elements of Style to your library and use it as a valuable reference. You can improve your writing by cracking it open and applying the rules and suggestions you'll find in the book.

Buy it on Amazon: The Elements of Style.

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The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, is an indespensable reference for better writing.


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