Whenever my office mates are proof-reading a paper, submitting a report or reviewing an article, we end up discussing some finer points of English grammar or style. The last time this happened, one of my office mates quoted a book called ‘The Elements of Style‘ by Strunk and White. He claimed the book is treated like a bible by his supervisor. As it turns out, this book is definitely a classic: the first edition was published in 1919.
‘Elements of Style’ is a short and sharp text which gives valuable tips on improving writing style. Although many of the tips might be basic, it is impressive that so many useful points are compressed in such a short book. The book has five main sections:
- Elementary rules of usage
- Elementary principles of composition
- A matters form
- Words and expressions commonly misused
- An approach to style
The fourth section gives common misuses of expressions. It is useful to review them and become more careful when writing. This may help to avoid the embarrassment of having written mistakes highlighted in a referee’s report. The book places special emphasis on writing compactly. This emphasis is even evident from the size of the book (105 pages).
I am not entirely convinced that this book is perfectly suitable for academic writing. For example, the book is vigorous in its emphasis on active voice. Although active voice is more direct and powerful, it is not always preferred in formal academic writing. In any case, ‘Elements of Style’ is a useful little book.
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