Sunday, April 14, 2024

Review: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Some people learn best when information comes in the form of numbered rules one ought to follow. This guide is for them. 

Other people resent rules passed down from on high when the explanations for these rules are sparse, subjective or arbitrary. Perhaps more provocatively, I propose this guide is also for them! 

Strunk & White are very opinionated in which phrases or words should be discarded altogether ("In the last analysis. A bankrupt expression.") but in making the resentful reader conscious of the vacuity of many commonplace phrases and defending their favourites to themselves, the reader will nonetheless become a more conscious writer.

This style guide is from a different era, and shows its age. The authors often lean on biblical verses as examples of good writing, presuming the reader is familiar with this material. There is a lengthy section advising the reader in how to best take advantage of a word processor and how to avoid its pitfalls. Written communication has changed with the evolution of technology (see Gretchen McCullough's Because Internet) and there are aspects of effective communication in the 21st century that are not covered--formal communication from an employer to its employees may even include emojis. That said, advice like "omit needless words" is timeless, and applies more than ever in the character-limited domain of twitter.

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