From every line there peers out at me the puckish face of my professor, his short hair parted neatly in the middle and combed down over his forehead, his eyes blinking incessantly behind steel-rimmed spectacles…
– William Strunk on E.B. White
In 1919, E.B. White was a professor at Cornell University and William Strunk a student in his English 8 class.
White handed his students a book he’d written that summer on the fundamentals of writing. Strunk called it the “little book.”
Only 43 pages long, “The Elements of Style” was the professor’s irate treatise on the need for “cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English.”
Almost 100 years late, a writing professor of mine told our class we should be carrying it around in our back pocket.
The rules of the book are simple and memorable–and timeless like clips from the Bible: “Keep to one tense!” “Use the active voice!” “Avoid a succession of long sentences!”
And, of course, there was White’s Golden Rule: “…he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, “Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!”
The book is split into five sections, touching on everything from simple grammar (“Do not join independent clauses by a comma” to advanced styling (“Do not explain too much”).
Pick up a copy. You can buy it on Amazon for less than a buck.