Robert Burton, lifelong scholar and librarian in the 16th century, wrote: “It is most true, stylus virum arguit,--our style betrays us” (qtd. in Bartlett). Whether inserting the most complicated words possible in order to sound scholarly, littering sentences by overusing slang and contractions, or keeping every sentence to a tight structure of subject, verb, object with no variation—these elements of style used improperly say something, even if unintentional, about the writer. In the end, the writer ends up sounding pompous, uneducated, or stilted and boring. While it would be easy to confuse style with voice and insist that every writer must be true to their voice and so cannot “learn” style, it is clear that style is much more than just the voice of the writer. No one writes in order to sound pompous, uneducated, or boring; we write to educate, to entertain, or even to make connections. Two books, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams, and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, address the issues of style and attempt to give the writer tools to improve their writing style. While there are many important elements to style, the ones I found most helpful deal with audience, clarity, and emphasis.
Few people write for the pure pleasure of writing alone—writing is meant to be read. According to Williams, it is important “to understand not only [writings] social origins but its social consequences” (xi). He asserts that when writing is unclear, often the reader mistakenly makes the assumption that it is their fault when it is the writers. In other words, writers have a responsibility to write clearly for their intended audience. The elements of style that...
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...s control of his words—they are “tumbled about” for people to understand or misunderstand (362). In taking the responsibility for a clear writing style, writers can more effectively allow their audience to understand their intended meaning, and they can set at least one of Plato’s fears to rest.
Bartlett, John. “Bartlett’s Book of Quotations.” June 2000.
http://www.bartleby.com/100/151.6.html>. Bartleby. 17 Oct. 2004.
Bowron, Kelly. “Prompt Five.” < http://bkellyaf.blogspot.com/>. 17 Oct. 2004 Exploring Writing. 18 Oct. 2004.
Plato. “From Phaedrus.” Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek, Eds. New York: Longman, 2003. 360-364.
Strunk, William Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: Longman, 2000.
Williams, Joseph M. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. Chicago: University Press, 1990.
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