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Elements of Style

I just read “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, it’s a remarkable work. I imagine my high school literature teacher, Professor Aldana, all the time, while I was reading the book. He was a man of few words, a huge knowledge source, and military resemblance.  Professor Strunk was a man of exact words as his student describes him in the book,  like Prof. Aldana.  I just can’t avoid imagine him teaching me a couple of life lessons.

Back to business, the book presents twenty two rules of usage and composition:

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 by 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

Principles of composition

  1. Choose a suitable design and hold to it
  2. Make the paragraph the unit of composition
  3. Use the active voice
  4. Put statements in positive form
  5. Use definite, specific, concrete language
  6. Omit needless words
  7. Avoid a succession of loose sentences
  8. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form
  9. Keep related words together
  10. In summaries, keep to one tense
  11. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end

All these rules apply to technical writing, although they don’t limit to it. After read the book, I understand more about how to write and how to prune a paper out of needless words and stuff that wouldn’t help the reader. It is a worth reading, and I think that is a must read for a grad student.

The last chapter focuses on style; it is a good set of advices for new writers. I liked some of its reminders:

  • Write with nouns and verbs
  • Revise and rewrite
  • Do not overwrite (I need to work on this one)
  • Do not overstate
  • Do not explain to much
  • Do not construct awkward adverbs
  • Be clear
  • Do not inject opinion

As I state, every person whom write in English should read it. It gives one a brief, but exact, view of the general writing style. And remember:

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar. — E. B. White

Further reading:

The Chicago Manual of Style.

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