Thursday, September 23, 2010

Strunk and White’s Principles Still Apply

Anyone interesting in writing better absolutely must have a copy of The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, close by their side. This little book houses some of the best advice you'll ever read about writing well.

Here's a selection of core writing principles we all should apply to our own writing. My favorite is the fourth on this list, "Omit needless words." Could it be said anymore clearly or succinctly? Nope.

  • Use the active voice.

  • Put statements in positive form.

  • Use definite, specific, concrete language.

  • Omit needless words.

  • Avoid a succession of loose sentences.

  • Express coordinate ideas in similar form.

  • Keep related words together.

  • In summaries, keep to one tense.

  • Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

And while we're on the subject of keeping things simple, here's the other bible: On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction, by William Zinsser. I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar he held at the University of Hartford several years ago, and he speaks like he writes—simply, clearly, and to the point. Good advice.