Writing tip of the day: In defense of Strunk and White

Boston.com has an excellent article in defense of Strunk and White’s classic writing text, Elements of Style (read it on Scribd here). After surveying its influence and some key critiques, the author concludes:

Meanwhile, as far as everyday, non-literary writing goes, the book is tremendously useful, especially for writers who are just starting out. If you are still struggling to put your thoughts into words, then The Elements of Style is a godsend. Strunk and White take the same tack as E.L. Doctorow, who wrote that “writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Simple sentences get you where you want to go, one mile at a time. Haslett suggests, as an alternative, Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One; Fish, he explains, is a world-class literary critic, “a sentence connoisseur” who offers “a far richer introduction to the capacities of English language sentences.” But beginning writers often find simplicity more helpful than sinuosity.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on February 7, 2011, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The hardest part about following their advice is that some of their recommendations are now so far out of the mainstream that people think you are wrong when you are really doing it right.

    For instance, their insistence on always using ‘s on the end of every possessive, even if it has an “s” on the end already. People always think that I don’t know the rule about using s’ in that case. Rather than explain myself repeatedly, it’s easier to just do it wrong.

    • And language is fluid. So, there does come a time when something that used to be correct is now actually “incorrect” – or, as you said, so far out of the mainstream that it is viewed as incorrect (which is basically the same thing). I have to admit that I break Strunk and White rules all the time, but it’s still a good resource.

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