He Said That? 7/14/15

It is difficult to select just two quotes from William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style. This classic should be one of the first books on writing assigned to students. It should be reread regularly by anyone who takes writing seriously. The Internet is larded with bad to awful writing and fighting the trend is a fool’s errand, but SLL has never shied away from fools’ errands. To ask that writers on the Internet, and elsewhere, observe all those yucky rules and things is a plea doomed to failure.  SLL instead offers the following quotes as suggestions only, which bloggers and other Internet scribes might consider before they begin pounding their keyboards, because it is clear that if they are acquainted with these quotes, they have not taken them to heart.

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

*                              *                           *

Clarity is not the prize in writing, nor is it always the principal mark of a good style. There are occasions when obscurity serves a literary yearning, if not a literary purpose, and there are writers whose mien is more overcast than clear. But since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one. Even to a writer who is being intentionally obscure or will of tongue we can say, “Be obscure clearly! be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!” Even to writers of market letters, telling us (but not telling us) which securities are promising, we can say, “Be cagey plainly! Be elliptical in a straightforward fashion!”

Clarity, clarity, clarity. When you become hopeless mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through the terrible odds of syntax. Usually what is wrong is that the construction has become too involved at some point; the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more sentences.

For those who cannot be troubled to read these paragraphs, remember these two words: concise and clear, and repeat them like a mantra as you write.  Your readers will thank you. SLL won’t read poorly written blog posts, believing that the quality of writing reflects the quality of thought.

4 responses to “He Said That? 7/14/15

  1. Reblogged this on lisaandrews1968 and commented:
    Reblogging as a reminder to myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always made a point of giving a copy to my coworkers when they showed a propensity towards sloppy writing. And my favorite, which may or may not actually be mine, is “brevity is your friend”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Say there are 10 terabytes of written material in the English language. My guess is that with even moderately proficient editing, that could be whittled down to less than 1 terabyte of worthwhile writing.


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