The Elements of Style by William Strunk · Book review

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This book serves as a long list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to writing. As a native English speaker some of the advice I understood instinctively, while some was a lot harder to understand and/or hard to try and explain in a quick review like this one.

The overall theme was of conciseness. Avoid non-committal language, superfluous words and flowery ways of expressing yourself just for the sake of it. Use the active voice, as it makes for more forceful and emphatic writing.

Some of the many examples include:

  • Charles’s not Charles’
  • Use the Oxford comma (red, white, and blue)
  • There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground. -> Dead leaves covered the ground. (Passive voice vs active voice)
  • He was not very often on time -> He usually came late. (Avoid non-committal language)
  • He did not think that studying Latin was much use -> He thought the study of Latin useless. (Readers prefer to know what is and not what is not)
  • Stick to the same pattern when expressing ideas
    • Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method, while now the laboratory method is employed. -> Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method; now it is taught by the laboratory method. (“was taught”/“is taught” and not “was taught”/“is employed”)

A lot of this is quite hard to absorb on just one reading e.g. I always struggle with identifying when I am using a passive voice. I’m planning to make more use of tools like Hemingway and Vale in the future to pick up on these mistakes for me.

If you're a serious writer, it may be worth picking this book up but for an amateur like me, I don't think it's necessary.

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