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Writing Style Principles from ‘The Elements of Style’

Style Principles

Style unlike grammar rules, has a layer of subjectivity. So don't treat it as a series of rules, but rather a set of changeable guidelines. Style comes more from subjective attitudes of mind/personality, than principles of composition


Why you Write

The more you write, the more it helps unveil your personality, habits etc. If writing is honest, your own unique style will be revealed, because everyone is unique. Writing both drains and supplies the mind


Style guidelines

  • A same sentence with different variations in structure and words can vary in terms of impact ('Times like these try men's souls' vs 'These are trying times for men's souls')
  • Writing is much slower than the speed of the mind (though is generally of higher quality than improvised speech if done right), so do cultivate patience
  • Focus on the substance of writing, instead of the temper of the author
  • Do not inject unnecessary opinion if the writing doesn't call for it
  • Never consciously imitate other people's writing, but don't be afraid if you accidentally imitate
  • Don't confuse others by using acronyms people are unlikely to understand (MADD - mothers against drunk driving)
  • Write generally from an outline/design, with exceptions of immediate contexts (email, sms)
  • Don't overstate information, it reduces credibility
  • Don't over-explain dialogue ('he said' or 'she replied' as oppose to 'she said consolingly', 'he congratulated')
  • Be wary of superlatives (greatest, biggest etc.)
  • Words that are not spoken, should not be written
  • However, there are some words best only used in conversation than writing
  • Clarity is the objective merit of great writing (with some exceptions like maximalist writing)
  • Pretentious writing comes from lacking clear explanation and thought, and trying to evade that in the reader's eyes by seeming 'inventive'
  • If you don't write clearly, it means you are subconsciously distrustful of your reader's intelligence, which is patronising
  • Your duty as a writer is to satisfy yourself, never follow trends.You could make money doing so, but artistically you'll be dead
  • Sympathise with the reader's concerns, but don't presume you know what he wants

  • Source: The Elements of Style 4th Edition 'Chapter 5: An Approach to Style pg 66-81'