A Writer's Choice
"The words we use to communicate our impressions cannot alone constitute a vocabulary sufficient to describe style, but they are part of one…" (Williams 18-19). This excerpt from Joseph M. Williams' Style Toward Clarity and Grace conveys a common theme in his book: Style is complex, and it is a matter of choice. Although writers across the nation may have been taught similar features of style and therefore produce similar products, they may choose to use or disregard those elements of style at will.
Writing parallels many other versatile fields - such as art, music, and dance - with the notion that in order to break the rules, one must first understand them. A creator needs a foundation to build on; in writing and style, this foundation is a combination of accuracy, consistency, clarity, and concision.
Accuracy is arguably a facet of style. With their list of commonly misused words and expressions in Elements of Style, Strunk and White stress the importance of using language correctly and even identify its relationship with style. "Many of the words and expressions listed here are not so much bad English as bad style, the commonplaces of careless writing" (39). The authors do acknowledge that there is no ultimate authority who deems which words must be used over others, but their matter-of-fact tone and occasional jabs at writers who misuse certain words seem to forecast misfortunes for those who do not follow a recommended word usage.
Williams is less concerned about such strict guidelines because "not all of us will agree on what counts as correct" (170). He attributes some rules to folklore, some to special formality, and a lot to personal choice. However, he acknowledges that precision may be necessary if that is what will aid a writer in achieving "a style that communicates effectively, even elegantly" (197).
Style also includes consistency, which comprises many different ideas and techniques but ultimately boils down to one objective: don't confuse the reader. Williams adds that even clear sentences can "be confusing if we fail to design them to fit their context, to reflect a consistent point of view, to emphasize our most important ideas" (45). He particularly recommends keeping main topics visible and uniform so the reader always has some sort of foothold in the text. Writers can achieve this by identifying what Williams calls a piece's "characters" and making sure those characters are the constant focus of the writing (20).
Strunk and White also introduce ways to be consistent. If writers keep related words together, for example, they illustrate the words' relationships more clearly and cut back on ambiguity (28). Writers should also express multiple ideas in similar form, a concept referred to as parallel construction (26). Strunk and White offer many more suggestions for improving consistency, all of which writers can apply to their writing at will. Again, these are the writers' own approaches -...