Good writing should tantalize readers’ taste buds and leave their mouths watering for more. What does it take to prepare such an exquisite meal? Many of us can boil eggs or toast bread, some can cook a chicken dinner, but to create a dish that shocks and delights the senses, that satiates an aching hunger requires years of training and practice. It often starts with a trusted guide book.
William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s “The Elements of Style” is the writer’s “Joy of Cooking.” Nearly every journalism pupil studies it, often memorizing rules and passages, while some scholars claim its methods old-fashioned. Yet its timeless and practical tips form the basis of every writer’s foundation, the cracking of eggs and sifting of flour one must learn to bake a soufflé.
To elevate your writing, master these 8 tips from “The Elements of Style.”
- Use the active voice. The active voice, in which the subject of the sentence performs the action, is more direct and vigorous than the passive. Write “The dog bit the man” rather than “The man was bitten by the dog.”
- Put statements in positive form. Make definite assertions, and avoid the use of not as a means of evasion. Change not honest to dishonest, did not remember to forgot, and did not pay attention to ignored.
- Use definite, specific, concrete language. The greatest writers are effective because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures. “It rained every day for a week” is more effective than “A period of unfavorable weather set in.”
- Omit needless words. 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. Avoid common expressions that violate this principle, including whether or not, he is a man who, and especially the fact that.
- Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. It is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color.
- Avoid fancy words. Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.
- Do not overwrite. Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.
- Avoid the use of qualifiers. Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.
Christopher Brandon, Content Specialist at One Brain
Image by: © Joshua Resnick – stock.adobe.com