Books | Have We Lost the Elements of Style?

Chances are, if you're a writer or hang with writers or want to become a writer, you're familiar with the timeless classic, The Elements of Style (Strunk & White). It presents essential rules for writing well in a world drowning in a flood of words.

This book has been updated and republished repeatedly since the the 1910s. No, that's not a typo: Elements has been used in classrooms for 100 years, and it's as relevant today as it was then. You have to wonder what William Strunk would say about our evolving language, murky word choices, lavish descriptions and bigger-better-braggart world.

Strunk's tidy list of rules are pithy, pointed and priceless. (He would hate that sentence.) His rules are equally valuable for anyone who wants to become a more effective oral communicator. My ninth grade English teacher made Strunk required reading, and at the end of the school year, I bought my very own copy. It was the first non-fiction book in which I was willing to invest my hard-earned money.

Today, I earn my living by helping businesses and organizations solve problems. Clear, simple, targeted written content is a vital tool in my toolbox, which means Strunk is too.

I therefore decided to conduct a completely informal and statistically invalid survey. I learned that among college graduates, those with an education in English literature or some form of writing are not just familiar with this book, they speak of Strunk with great familiarity, as if he's a close friend. What would Strunk do? What does Strunk say? Have you checked Strunk?

No one else has heard of the book. No one. Not one accountant,  business manager, engineer, computer information specialist or designer recalled reading it. Not one high school teacher or college professor outside the narrow discipline of language and writing had heard of it.

Here's the bottom line. If you want to learn to write well, read this book. If you know how to write but want to write better, read this book. If you make oral presentations or speeches, read this book. If you have a blog and want to blog better, read this book. If you haven't read this book in awhile, reread this book.

I plan to start rereading it today. Meanwhile, what's your favorite book on simple effective writing?

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