The Elements of Style

Written by: Oliver Strunk and E.B. White

Virtually since it was first published in 1979, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style have become the most frequently referenced text on proper grammar and effective writing. Any conversation about academic writing would seem incomplete without including this text. Many colleges and universities require students to purchase this book and many of them use it as part of their curriculum.

The fourth edition has been updated to include more timely examples. Gone are conversations about using “groovy”. They’ve been replaced by the suggestion to avoid “psyched, dude, and funky.” The addition of illustrations further help students to develop their own writing style. We’ve linked to a free PDF version of The Elements of Style but as you can see it’s also available from Amazon (often for less than $5).

It’s one of the few books I still have from my college career. And, it’s probably the only one that I actually still use. My advice? Use the free PDF until your hard-copy arrives in the mail.

Table of Contents for The Elements of Style

1. Elementary Rules of Usage
1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ’s.
2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
4. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.
5. Do not join independent clauses with a comma.
6. Do not break sentences in two.
7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.
8. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.
9. The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.
10. Use the proper case of pronoun.
11. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
II. Elementary Principles of Composition
12. Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
14. Use the active voice.
15. Put statements in positive form.
16. Use definite, specific, concrete language.
17. Omit needless words.
18. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
19. Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
20. Keep related words together.
21. In summaries, keep to one tense.
22. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.
III. A Few Matters of Form
IV. Words and Expressions Commonly Misused
Aggravate, all right, allude, allusion, alternate, alternative, among, between, and/or, anticipate, anybody, anyone, as good or better than, as to whether, as yet, etc.
V. An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders)
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.

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The Elements of Style

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