Brevity isn’t simple, but for writers it’s obligatory. No one knew this better than professor William Strunk Jr., who in 1918 developed and privately published the first edition of The Elements of Style, a now revered guidebook outlining essential rules of the English language. Revised in 1957 by New Yorker writer E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web), The Elements of Style has managed to maintain its original purpose over the years, even as our language has become less formal. That’s because the rules aren’t suggestions but grammatical demands for the composition of sentences, paragraphs and total bodies of work. Reading the “Little Book” is almost like sitting in an elementary English class, which seems to be how the authors intended it. Strunk and White waded through the totality of our vast and complicated language and boiled it down to a terse 105 pages, including a glossary and index. No exhaustive explanations or sentence diagrams here — just 22 style rules and principles of composition, followed by “a few matters of form,” a conclusive list of misused words and phrases and an all-encompassing “guide to style,” composed postscript by White. The Elements of Style is a timeless reminder of the simplicity of proper writing and is likely to remain a useful tool for years to come.
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