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Elements of Style

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The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. is an absolutely essential read for any grad student. In fact, anyone who is doing any sort of writing should read this writing guide (I’m looking at you commenters of the internet). The Elements of Style is a book that was originally published in 1918 and its main purpose is to lay out some of the rules of english. Rules for clarity, accuracy and brevity. This guide is a resource for many writers today and it definitely should be a resource for you as a graduate student.

The importance of clear writing in a scientific article cannot be understated. If you cannot simply and accurately express the results of your work, then you might as well not have done the work! It is up to you, the author, to make the material easy for the reader to understand. The first step to better writing is practice (a.k.a persistence); the second is to read Elements of Style.  Make it a yearly habit of reading through Strunk’s work and you will be a better author for it. It has been said that you must know the rules in order to break them, and to better learn the rules you need to go through this book.

Elements is broken up into five chapters: Introductory, Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matter of Form, and Words and Expressions Commonly Misused. Each chapter gives insight into the proper use of the English language and you are sure to discover nuances that are new to you. The styling of the text and sentences does show its age a bit, but it is a delight to read. Sentences such as

“Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is, or could be heard.”

Will make you realize the eloquence of the English language. Many examples on proper usage abound in the text and I definitely recommend a cover-to-cover reading of the entire text. Of significant importance to graduate students is chapter 5, discussing Words and Expressions Commonly Misused. It was, and somewhat still is, common for me to use words and phrases that have no meaning (e.g. very, really, sort of). They may add several words to a text, but they give no additional useful meaning. There is no place for this in scientific literature and we all should strive to minimize such phrases in our manuscripts. Such familiar phrases as certainly, kind of, and respective/respectively are also recommended to be removed and replaced. Be sure to dive into detail in this chapter and absorb what it has to say.

The Elements of Style should be essential reading for any graduate student. Google Elements of Style and you will be able to find a downloadable copy of the guide or you can purchase one from Amazon. Hopefully, a yearly read through of this useful guide will yield better authors and better scientific literature. Enjoy! Link to purchase the book.

So now you’re reading, but are you writing? Link to one of my other posts on writing.


Written by Taylor M.

January 18, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Posted in The Basics, Writing

One Response

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  1. […] Elements of Style. Getting ready to do some writing? Read this before you do to sharpen and hone your skill. […]

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