Writing Style is Important
Before expounding on the elements and forms of style, there are two main questions that should be asked: What is style, and why should one be concerned with it? In answer to the first question, I believe that style is choice. One’s style is determined by the types of words he chooses, and the diction with which he displays them. A style can be casual or formal, simple or verbose; every time an author writes something, he is making decisions on how he wants to present his information. For instance, I just chose to use the pronoun ‘he’ in this paragraph, rather than ‘she,’ or the epicene ‘they.’ I made this decision feeling that by using ‘he’ I am being as clear as I can, though I know the consequence is that I may sound sexist.
The second question, why should we be concerned with style, is answered in the books The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, and Style Toward Clarity and Grace, by Joseph Williams. Strunk and White believed in a prescriptivist method to writing, in which writers follow many tiny grammatical rules. Conversely, Williams looks more at the ‘big picture,’ focusing more on improving writing as a whole rather than on individual rules of grammar. However, they all agree that good style is clear and intelligible, and that writers should write with their readers in mind. They believe that style is important because it affects the readers’ ability to understand and enjoy writing.
The books The Elements of Style and Style Toward Clarity and Grace are both different and alike. The authors are quite dissimilar, as are the attitudes, form, and set-up of their books. However, the authors Strunk and White and the author Joseph Williams (the writers of these two books, respectively) are all concerned ultimately with the subject of style, and seem to agree that good writing is clear writing. Both the differences and similarities of these works are worth discussing.
The Elements of Style is set up in five main parts: rules of usage, principles of composition, form, commonly “misused” words, and style. It is a very small book, consisting of eight-five pages, including the introduction. However, if the shortness of this book is a virtue (as can be used as a reference manual), it is also a flaw; the rules and examples are simple, yes, but they also lack explanation. Where Strunk and White succeed in producing a quick summary of writing rules, they fail in providing adequate justification for the conventions that they are supporting. The first chapter is called “Elementary Rules of Usage,” in which they show students the “proper” rules of writing, such as how to use linking verbs, proper pronouns, and participial phrases, but do not explain to the reader why these rules should be followed. Rather than give numerous examples for the rules they show, or explain why students should consider using their suggestions, Strunk and White give these rules as objective laws: “Put statements in...