"Professor Strunk was a positive man. His book contains rules of grammar phrased as direct orders. . . . [It] proposed to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style. It concentrates on fundamentals: the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated" (viii).
This volume is exactly what struggling writers need, and we all struggle! In chapter one, Strunk breaks down the elementary rules of English usage. Rule 1: “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s” is followed by a page of examples. Rule 5: “Do not join independent clauses by a comma” with examples. And on it goes.
Chapter two does for the entire composition what Chapter one does for the sentence—breaks down the text into manageable parts. Rule 10: “Use the active voice;” Rule 12: “Use definite, specific, concrete language;” Rule 13: “Omit needless words” with plenty of examples to illustrate ways to follow his advice. Strunk writes:
"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell" (ix-x).
E.B. White needs no introduction. Every college freshman of a certain era—actually several eras—met him in freshman composition through his exquisite essay, “Once More to the Lake.” Children and parents know him through the award-winning books, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan.
Besides editing Strunk’s work for this book, White adds his own common sense chapter on developing your own style. Common sense because these are suggestions that we all know but sometimes forget. Some examples: (1) “Place yourself in the background;” (2) “Write in a way that comes naturally;” (11) “Do not explain too much;” (13) “Make sure the reader knows who is speaking;” (16) “Be Clear;” (19) “Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.”
Style cannot be taught. White reflects that style is an elusive element hard to define and mysterious. We recognize a writer’s style by the way he or she uses the language that “reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacities, his bias. . . . All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation—it is the Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito” (59-60). (Note that White is writing in the era of the use of the masculine pronoun as the generic.) Your style reflects your voice, your Self, speaking your truth.
If you want to polish your writing, I recommend this book. I own no stock in it, but I do feel I own stock in my students’ writing. Learn the basics and develop your own style, your voice. My aim is to send you into the world making a difference wherever you are planted, writing well the story only you can write.