Writing Resources: The Elements of Style

writing resources

Strunk and White: The Elements of Style.

Writing resources are easy to come by. But good writing resources, ones that will truly help you improve your writing, can be difficult to scout out among the many books on writing that are available.

Originally published in 1959, The Elements of Styleelements of style has been a fixture among writers who want to compose words with poise and clarity. Coming in at under 100 pages, it’s a quick read packed with style tips, grammar usage, and general advice on writing.

The Elements of Style was the first writing book I ever owned. In sixth grade, when I was assigned my first term paper, one of the requirements was to use this book. It was only recently that I finally upgraded to the latest edition and read it in its entirety for the first time, and I was impressed beyond measure.

The Elements of Style

Of all writing resources, The Elements of Style is probably the most well-known. Since it was first published, it has helped millions of writers and is the only style guide that has ever graced the bestseller list.


William Strunk Jr., late professor of English at Cornell University, first wrote the book for his students. One of those students eventually became one of the most beloved writers of the twentieth century. E.B. White, author of such great literary works as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, was asked to prepare an edition of the book for the general public. He revised Strunk’s original work, added a final chapter, and The Elements of Style was born.

The story of this little book is fascinating – but its real value lies in the content.

Writing Resources You Can Actually Use

Most writing resources and style guides are presented as reference material. Using an index, you visit your resource only when you need to look up something specific. The Elements of Style is an interesting cover-to-cover read, one that you can easily finish in less than a day.

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 sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

-William Strunk, Jr. from The Elements of Style

The book is so small, you can carry it in your purse, your pocket, or keep it conveniently tucked away in your laptop bag. Each chapter is concise, and takes you straight to the point. There are no fancy introductions or lengthy explanations – just hard-and-fast tips, rules, and recommendations.

There are just five chapters:

  1. Elementary Rules of Usage
  2. Elementary Principles of Composition
  3. A Few Matters of Form
  4. Words and Expressions Commonly Misused
  5. An Approach to Style

Within these chapters, you will find answers to the most common and nagging questions that perplex writers at all levels, from the young beginner to the mature master. Plus, there’s a handy glossary that provides definitions for terms used throughout the book.

Essential for Writers

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There are plenty of useful writing resources available. Some of them are designed for general usage and provide readers with the straight facts about style and grammar. Others offer information for specialists (fiction or poetry writing, for example). Few are as useful or convenient as The Elements of Style, a book that every writer simply must possess.

Do you have a copy of The Elements of Style? Why or why not? What are some of your favorite writing resources?

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Comments

18 Responses to “Writing Resources: The Elements of Style”

  1. Christine Mattice says:

    Like you, I love Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style. It’s a true classic. I have had this book for years, but have not read it for a while. Your post makes me want to dig it out again and start reading to–of course-brush up on my writing style!

    • It’s definitely the kind of writing resource you can brush up on every few years! You can even use a highlighter to call out the points you don’t want to forget. Enjoy :)

  2. Idrees Patel says:

    Excellent article. Before reading this, I never even had heard of The Elements of Style. Now, I wonder how much I’ve missed. It certainly seems like a great book for me. It’s a pity there are no libraries where I live in India, and I don’t think bookstores stock it because I’ve never seen it. Still, I might have order it from Amazon…

    My question is: is it easy to read? I mean, I came across some textbooks about writing previously and was restricted with the academic style of writing. Does The Elements of Style follow the pattern, or is it easy to read and understand?

    Thanks for writing this great article

    • I find it very easy to read. After all, it was assigned to me when I was just a sixth-grader (around age eleven!). Even if there are areas that you find confusing, it will provide you with a solid foundation and sound approaches to your writing. It’s the number one writer’s resource for good reason, so I say go ahead and order it from Amazon, and then come back and let us know how you liked it.

  3. June Hubatsek says:

    I do have Strunk and White’s The Element of Style. I also haveThe Chicago Manual of Style Both are useful, but as already commented, the first can be carried around in your purse and be available at a moments notice.

    • Ah, my top two favorites! Those two resources are essential for all types of writing. My third choice, which is specifically for creative writing, is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

  4. Kelvin Kao says:

    I was first told to read the book by my teacher when I was studying for SAT II Writing. It was very concise and easy to read. I had no problem reading it even though it was only my first year in the United States. It helped me become aware of many things in grammar and style. I still recommend it to people preparing for the writing tests and foreign students trying to improve their writing.

  5. Shirley Kelly says:

    I love writing and have so for many years. The only thing I love more than writing is reading. Reading is truly fundamental and I am so grateful to have read this blog post. I hadn’t heard of The Elements of Style but I can’t wait to purchase it. Thanks for the review of this book. It sounds like something I might just need to pass down to my daughter who is an English major at Texas University.

    • I’ve always favored The Chicago Manual of Style for its sheer volume — it addresses almost every grammar and style issue imaginable and is super easy to navigate. However, I think Strunk & White may be even more valuable, especially in building an initial foundation for good writing skills. Definitely a text to treasure and pass along to the next generation!

  6. Eric says:

    There are so many style guides out there that I wonder what people find most useful. There’s AP, Chicago Manual of Style, MLA and numerous others. Also, what about books like the Gregg Reference Manual? Perhaps a review of these guide and their differences would be helpful.

    • TERESA says:

      I am working on my Masters in Forensic Psychology of the Legal System. I have a BS in org. management and business administration with one year of law school. However through the 10 years of working on papers and presentations I would hire a young English teacher to correct my writing because I write terrible, like to beginning aa the end and the starting points at the conclusion. Anyway can anyone tell me if this book you speak of is helpful for me. I have to write according to the APA Manual Format for American Psychology Association 6th ed., except my teacher friend moved back to New York and now working on my masters I dread turning in my work. Please reply to latinaameri@yahoo.com thanks.

      • Based on what you’ve said about your specific challenges with writing clearly and accurately, yes, I think The Elements of Style would be the perfect place to start. You can also check with your school and possibly enroll in a writing class that is designed to help you hone your writing skills (most colleges offer an exam to place you in the proper course). Actually, this is something that probably should have happened before you received your undergraduate degree. In any case, best of luck to you!

    • I don’t consider The Elements of Style to be a traditional style guide since it’s so broad and functions more as a basis upon which to build solid writing skills. Each style guide is used by different industries. AP, for example, is favored in journalism. MLA is used in academia while the APA is used in psychiatry and medicine. My understanding of Gregg is that it’s used widely in business and various professional circles. My preference is for Chicago, since it’s general and most widely used in fiction and creative nonfiction. It’s also the style guide upon which many other style guides are based. The guide you choose will depend on what you’re writing and for whom. It’s important to note that some companies and industries use particular guides that may be internal or not well known to the general public. If you have a boss, check with him/her to see which guide you should adhere to.

  7. Simon Bishop says:

    Yay! Another two thumbs up from here – my copy’s well worn and dog eared. Favourite bit of wisdom is the quote about writing being “nondetachable” – which, if you look at it from every angle you can think of, packs an incredible amount of wisdom and “right-ness” into one word.

    Although in many ways I hate it, the other book I turn to regularly is Eats Shoots and Leaves – albeit more for editing than writing. (Something to do with being an eighties child – right when grammar had gone out of fashion. I still don’t know the difference between a verb and an adverb…)

    • Ah, the difference between a verb and adverb is easy: generally speaking, an adverb is a word that modifies a verb (the same way an adjective modifies a noun).

      I have a copy of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (love the title!) but didn’t get very far because it addresses British English and I’m here in America, where people do not want to see periods and commas outside the quotation marks. In fact, it was because of that book that I learned in England, the terminal punctuation goes outside the quotes. Before that, I always thought folks who wrote that way were simply making typos!

  8. cmdweb says:

    I’m in Scotland and had, until entering the internet writing world, never heard of Strunk and White’s book. I have heard of Eats, Shoots and Leaves but I don’t own a copy. I don’t see that the use of guides on writing style is as widespread here in the UK as it is the US, although I certainly could do with the occasional reminder – so now might be the time to invest in a copy.

    • Eats, Shoots, and Leaves is a European grammar resource; it doesn’t deal with U.S. style and grammar. There aren’t many difference between British and U.S. English, but there are enough to warrant different guide books. If you’re writing for an international audience, it would be helpful to master both. Good luck to you.