The English language is a convoluted warren of rules and exceptions. Knowing every rule is difficult even for native English speakers and writers. Different style guides use contradicting rules, further confusing budding writers trying desperately to write clean copy. Fortunately, there is a simple way for writers to improve their copy with under 2oz. of resource materials: The Elements of Style.
In 1919, William Strunk, Jr., an English Professor at Cornell, wrote a small text and style manual which he affectionately referred to as “the little book.” Originally published just for his classes, the little book instructed the reader to embrace simple and easy-to-remember rules for improving their copy. Revised by E.B. White (a former student of Strunk’s), the little book became a little bigger, but is still diminutive. These refined methods can be implemented in all forms of writing including essays, reports, blog posts, and even tweets.
With over 10 million copies sold, The Elements of Style has helped writers of every caliber. Every writer, no matter their age or level, will benefit from the simple rules outlined in this minuscule manuscript. In the foreword of On Writing, Stephen King says:
“I’ll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style.”
King’s faith is well placed. The Elements of Style is stuffed with tools that will improve every phrase a writer will pen (or type).
The 18 rules of usage and composition penned by Strunk are easy to refer to and are never complicated. The 21 rules put forward by White coaching writers regarding one’s approach to style are lessons most will lose in the mix of a classroom. The short section of words often misused can help authors track down egregious and useless text. Implementing these rules provides clarity to the reader, making every word count. This is especially useful in our culture of 140-character snapshots of life.
Of course, writers must start somewhere, and none of us are perfect. We each have our own style, and sometimes that means making up our own rules. Just be consistent, and write with your own voice.