Strunk & White – The Elements of Style

In my quieter moments I surf the internet just like anyone else involved primarily in writing web content. I regularly read CopyBlogger which is a mine of writing tips and resources, but I particularly picked up on a post by Brian Clark
bemoaning the adverse comments scattered about blog posts by English usage Nazi’s. I think he has a fair set of points but they are not the subject of this post here. Brian was posting about common errors and by all means read his post, I thoroughly enjoy his blogging but bear in mind this is American writing and grammatical tips.

I followed through the post and picked up on a couple of names – Strunk & White – and clicking on the hyperlink, there we go through to Wikipedia and the entry for their tome. Reading the Wikipedia entry has motivated me to purchase a copy through eBay not least because of the simple, straight-forward advice that Messrs. Strunk & White appear to be dishing out.

Here’s a sample:

1. Place yourself in the background.
2. Write in a way that comes naturally.
3. Work from a suitable design.
4. Write with nouns and verbs.
5. Revise and rewrite.
6. Do not overwrite.
7. Do not overstate.
8. Avoid the use of qualifiers.
9. Do not affect a breezy manner.
10. Use orthodox spelling.
11. Do not explain too much.
12. Do not construct awkward adverbs.
13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.
14. Avoid fancy words.
15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.
16. Be clear.
17. Do not inject opinion.
18. Use figures of speech sparingly.
19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.
20. Avoid foreign languages.
21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat.

I think Messrs. S & W have just provided me with a mountain of blog posting ideas – “17. Do not inject opinion” – really? Then there is rule “20. Avoid foreign languages.” – hmmm, being married to a kracevaya Rooskiyaya once upon a time, I have personally found avoiding foreign languages detrimental to the sex life as well as interesting experiences to write about.

Brian hits the nail on the head with his position that blogging and copywriting should be conversational and engaging; both forms lend themselves directly to rule breaking as far as Messrs S&W are concerned.

Seriously ask me how long I would be getting paid for generating sales copy if I did not “inject opinion” into it? Ask yourself how long you will be getting paid if you don’t deliver what your client asks for and it certainly will be no use in citing Messrs. Strunk & White.

BUT!

Knowing the rules while you’re breaking them is probably the honourable way forward?