The most important rule of style in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is number, “Omit needless words.”

This is professor Strunk’s advice regarding this rule:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Memorize the above passage from the book. I literally want you to memorize this passage. I’m going to ask you to reproduce in on a quiz or test at some point. Write in on a flash card and keep it on you and read it over and over until you memorize it.

Here are two examples from the book which show how one can say the same thing in very different language and with a lot more words without using needless words. In both passages every word tells.

Example 1: Manuel drank his brandy. He felt sleepy himself. It was too hot to go out into the town. Besides there was nothing to do. He wanted to see Zurito. He would to to sleep while he waited.

Example 2: He did not still feel weak, he was merely luxuriating in that supremely gutful lassitude of convalescence in which time, hurry, doing, did not exist, the accumulating seconds and minutes and hours to which in its well state the body is slave both waking and sleeping, now reversed and time now the lip-server and mendicant to the body’s pleasure instead of teh body thrall to time’s headlong course.

An online version of the original version of The Elements of Style is available here  (http://www.cs.vu.nl/~jms/doc/elos.pdf) for free, but I would strongly recommend you purchase this book as it will be probably be one of the best investments you could ever make. Here is a link to it if you want to purchase it online. The updated version has some sections written by White that are not in the original.


23 Rules of Style

  • 1.Avoid alliteration. Always.
  • 2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  • 3. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
  • 4. Employ the vernacular.
  • 5.Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  • 6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  • 7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive
  • 8. Contractions aren’t necessary.
  • 9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  • 10. One should never generalize.
  • 11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
  • 12. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
  • 13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  • 14. Profanity sucks.
  • 15. Be more or less specific.
  • 16. Understatement is always best.
  • 17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  • 18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  • 19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  • 20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  • 21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  • 22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  • 23. Who needs rhetorical questions?

Exercise: Rewrite each rule into a simple declarative sentence.



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