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Book Review – The Elements of Style

Author: William Strunk
Print | Kindle Edition
When I picked up this book, I was looking for some tips on editing. But this ended up to be a grammar book. Rules, rules and more rules. It is known to be a classic book of editing but one needs a lot of practise and multiple sittings of reading to master the content.
 
When I was going through the rules, I didn’t even know that some of the rules existed. I found it difficult to remember them too.This book has given me a checklist to edit any content I write.
But the rules are a bit confusing and need to be read over and again to perfect them.
 
The first block deals with elementary rules of usage. Some of them feel like common sense while a few others made me feel that “Why was I not taught this back in school?”. The rules need to be revisited over and again to start applying them.
 
A few things which will be learnt in this block are
 

  • Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s
  • In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last
  • Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas
  • Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause
  • Do not join independent clauses by a comma
  • Do not break sentences in two
  • A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject
  • Divide words at line-ends, in accordance with their formation and pronunciation

 

The second block deals with elementary principles of composition. The most interesting part of this block is usage of negative form. It never occurred to me that a negative sentence is far less effective than a positive one. But when I had to change all my statements to positive, it looked like a humongous task. This rule could have been explained more clearly to make it more easily implementable. Other aspects which can be learnt in this block are
 

  • Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic
  • As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning
  • Use the active voice
  • Put statements in positive form
  • Omit needless words
  • Avoid a succession of loose sentences
  • Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form
  • Keep related words together
  • In summaries, keep to one tense
  • Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end

 
I found the third block a bit boring because it is not something which I could related to. It talked more about headings, titles and references. But it is definitely of use to those who use it regularly.

The fourth block is again an interesting one as it deals with words and expression which are commonly misused. I had been collecting them from every possible place. This helped me add a good list to my collection.

The fifth block deals with commonly misspelled words. Again not much of use because we write electronically these days and the software shows that we are misspelling the word.

Overall, the book was interesting but definitely not a book to read in one sitting and put it aside. It needs to be read everyday like a bible. Every concept needs to be mastered and implemented diligently to see a stark improvement in writing.

Next steps:

Keep reading one rule per day again to master it.

Happy editing!

 

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