Let’s Talk About Strunk & White’s 11 Elementary Principles of Composition

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is a venerable classic when it comes to writing. Not every writer has read it and not everyone who has read it likes it. But I do.

In particular, Strunk and White’s “11 Elementary Principles of Composition” are still relevant and critical. I highly suggest learning and applying these concepts to your own work, no matter what type of writing you do.

Sure, you can break the rules sometimes…but understand the rules first.

Strunk and White’s “11 Elementary Principles of Composition”

Choose a suitable design and stick to it.

In other words, decide the style you want to write your piece in and then be consistent throughout.

Make the paragraph the unit of composition.

Your content is built one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time. Be sure to make each line build up to the next one, and make each line support the one before it.

Use the active voice.

…as opposed to passive voice, at least as much as possible. Grammarly can help you out with that!

Put statements in positive form.

Instead of writing as sentence as a negative, just be direct and “positive.”

Use definite, specific, concrete language.

Nobody likes a wishy-washy sentence…except maybe politicians!

Omit needless words.

I was going to say something here…but I omitted it!

Avoid a succession of loose sentences.

There’s nothing wrong with loose sentences, i.e. one with an independent clause at the beginning, followed by a dependent clauses. Just don’t go overboard with them…

Express coordinate ideas in similar form.

“Coordination means combining two sentences or ideas that are of equal value.”

Keep related words together.

Basically, keep your sentences tight and associated words next to each other versus scattered throughout the sentence. And keep in mind, “omit needless words.”

In summaries, keep to one tense.

It’s crazy how some writers switch tenses within a paragraph, leaving readers confused about the timeline. Just pick a tense already!

Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

It’s almost as if ol’ Strunk and White predicated the rise of the “Call to Action,” except here they aren’t just talking about the end of a piece, but even the end of each line that requires an emphatic word or phrase.

Published by Matt Cates

Retired USAF Veteran. Freelance writer. Author of 'Haveck: The First Transhuman.'

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