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According to the Webster’s New World Dictionary, the definition of style is “a characteristic manner of expression”(612). Usually words such as personal, individual, and unique also come to mind when we think of writing style. I have always associated writing style with belonging uniquely to one individual, meaning that everyone had his or her own style. After reading, “Style Toward Clarity and Grace” by Joseph Williams and “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White, I realized that style is not as unique as I thought. In fact, as I stated in my blog space, “writing has certain rules and elements that must be incorporated in to our writing in order to make our points clear to those we want to read it. Since these elements and rules are common to all writing, then style and good writing bring forth new meanings.”
Strunk and White start their style guide off by reminding us of the rules of word order and punctuation. Rules that include: “Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas” and “The number of the subject determines the number of the verb”(2,9). These rules are not optional if you want others to understand what you are writing and your purpose for writing it.
Making sure your readers understand your writing is the basic principle behind Williams’ book. He takes the rules, offered by Strunk and White, and adds detailed explanations of when and how. He shows us how to incorporate this knowledge into clear and effective writing. Being clear and assuring that our readers understand the message we are trying to convey, needs to be our primary goal if we are to be considered good writers.
From reading both of these style-books, I have learned that good writing, excluding creative writing, uses a more purposeful approach than a personal one. Williams supplies us with clear and simple rules, which he calls suggestions, which explain that good writing must have a purpose. Good writing is only considered this if our intended readers understand the message that we are trying to convey in our writing. This has nothing to do with personal choice or personal expression because if you chose to leave out such rules then your audience will be unable to understand your writing.
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Although clarity is stressed in both of these texts, Strunk and White are often unclear in their own suggestions. Suggestions such as: “omit needless words”(23), or “be clear”(79) are examples of two issues from Strunk and White that Williams clarifies in his text. “Writing clearly allows the reader to glide through the text without having to slow down for speed bumps along the way” (Johnson). Clarity is not an option for writers if we are to keep the focus of our audience. When we take in to consideration our own requests as readers then we begin to see the requirements of being good writers.
After reading these style manuals and the blogs written on this subject, I have come to the conclusion that although style is not something that we uniquely create, style insists on a personality. I say this because the number of words we know is finite but the process of creating new sentences is infinite. This means that generally we do not repeat the same sentence but instead construct new ones. Creating new sentences requires knowledge of words and phrases and that exact knowledge is unique. It is not reasonable to believe that two separate individuals would have the exact vocabulary. Therefore, in creating new sentences we each choose different words. This could be considered a smaller part of style but still must be included. Tara explains in her blog that, “good writing lets us know something about the writer [and] to be interesting we need some insight into the [writer’s] feelings and thoughts. White would probably agree since he also states “All writers, by the way they use the language, reveal something of their spirits, their habits, their capacities, and their biases” (67).
Another aspect of style, that needs to be addressed, is that style changes over time. When writing first began it was used to keep track of business transactions. Writing quickly progressed and was used to write letters, to record vital records, and to preserve the oral stories that were passed down from generation to generation. It would not be difficult to image that people, who wrote in the beginning of this new technology, did not worry so much about grammatical rules and the structure of their paragraphs. Also, as Sarah points out in her blog, “writing is dated.”Words and phrases that were popular many years ago are not so popular anymore. Also words that would’ve been considered “big words,” which we are not supposed to use according to both of the style manuals, may not be looked upon as such any longer. The Bible is a perfect example of dated writing. “Thou shalt not…” and “For thou hast…” are examples of phrases that were used often during those times and were clearly understood by those who read them. If we were to use these phrases today in our educational or professional writing, our audience would probably not view this as clear writing. If our audience is unable to correctly interpret what we, as writers, are trying to convey then our style of writing may be considered ineffective especially according to Williams.
Strunk and White view style as tied more to the individual writer where Williams views style as tied more to context and to the projected audience. I believe that writing style considers both of these views and therefore have determined that style is: the personality of the writer and how well he can clearly reveal his intentions to his specific audience. This is to say that although many writers follow the same guidelines and apply the same basic principles to their writing, none of us will chose the same words, phrases, or sentences to describe our points. For the most part, however, we all adhere to the same grammatical rules and suggestions even if in different ways and circumstances. Any two writers will have different approaches and attitudes that show through in their writing, even when addressing the same subject material and the same intended audience, but they will both rely on the rules to get that point across. Style in writing is an important issue that all writers deal with at one point or another. This is why books such as those written by Strunk and White and Williams are so popular. While many of the techniques and suggestions differ, there is one thing for certain and that is that style, along with everything else, will continue to change over time.