Monday, May 18, 2009

Writer's Block: The Elements of Style

Strunk and White's Elements of Style celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, with three simple words: 'Omit needless words'.

Amen.

As a forever student of journalism, I have always believed that the key to good writing is brevity and clarity.

Although I am not yet the most brilliant of writers, it is this principle that I keep in mind and still apply to the best of my efforts when writing. So far it hasn't failed me yet.

The Elements of Style is a book I like to keep at my desk, right next to my copy of the AP Style Guide, the dictionary, and thesaurus.

If one ever had to summarize The Elements of Style into a few words, it would be to keep writing simple.

Strunk and White tell us that good writing is about brevity and clarity. When in doubt -- omit, simplify and pare. Do away with jargon and pretentious words.

Here's a good example of what to avoid:

The Taming of the Shrew is rather weak in spots. Shakespeare does not portray Katherine as a very admirable character, nor does Bianca remain long in memory as an important character in Shakespeare's works.

Here is how he fixes it:

The women in The Taming of the Shrew are unattractive. Katherine is disagreeable. Bianca insignificant.

You don't have to be a writer to apply this basic principle. I believe everyone needs to pick pointers from this book, to avoid miscommunication especially at the workplace.

In an effort to sound intelligent and capable, we throw in a lot of words that get in the way of the message we try to convey.

Although jargon will always be part of the corporate culture, it is good to remember that sometimes it's just better to keep it simple. You'll get more work done.