Style in Writing

I am working my way through Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb. I would recommend it for anyone who makes writing or editing their profession. It is a thin little book with 264 pages in total (including Appendices, Glossary, and Index) with twelve lessons in five parts that address style, clarity, grace, clarity of form, and ethics. More quotes to come, I’m sure.

“The problem is, we cannot judge our own writing as others will because we respond less to the words on the page than to the thoughts in our minds. We can avoid that solipsistic subjectivity only if we can figure out how what we have put on the page makes our readers feel as they do.” p. 7

“A warning: if you think of the principles offered here as rules to follow as you draft, you may never finish anything. Most experienced writers get something down on paper or up on the screen as fast as they can. Then as they revise that first draft into something clearer, they understand their ideas better. And when they understand their ideas better, they express them more clearly, and the more clearly they express them, the better they understand them…and so it goes, ending only when they run out of energy, interest, or time.” p. 8

“If writers whom we judge to be competent regularly violate some alleged rule and most careful readers never notice, then the rule has no force. In those cases, it is not writers who should change their usage, but grammarians who should change their rules.” p. 18

“You can’t predict good grammar or correct usage by logic or general rule. You have to learn the rules one-by-one and accept the fact that some of them, probably most of them, are arbitrary and idiosyncratic.” p. 23

“We distinguish these two kinds of sentences because readers can respond to them very differently: the one you are now reading for example, is one long punctuated sentence, but it is not as hard to read as many shorter sentences that consist of many subordinate clauses; I have chosen to punctuate as one long sentence what I might have punctuated as a series of shorter ones: that colon, those semicolons, and the comma before that but could have been periods, for example–and that dash could have been a period too.” p. 211

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