I have a one-hundred-and-five-page book. It weighs four ounces. The Boston Globe thinks that “No book in shorter space, with fewer words, will help any writer more than this persistent little volume.” The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, a treasure trove of wisdom about writing style, is as elemental to a writer as practicing scales is to a pianist.

10 Essential Tips to Improve Your Writing Style

10 Essential Principles of Style

Strunk and White gave us several principles of composition and style. These are my top tips, counting down from ten.

10. Use The Active Voice

The active voice is more direct and forceful.

9. Put Statements in Positive Form

Do not write what is not happening. Write definite assertions.

8. Use Definite, Specific Concrete Language

Words that are general, vague or abstract are unlikely to hold the reader's attention.

7. Write With Nouns and Verbs

Nouns and verbs are preferable to adverbs and adjectives.

6. Avoid The Use of Qualifiers

Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. —Strunk and White

5. Do Not Explain Too Much

The use of adverbs after he said, or she said, is cluttered and annoying. “He said sadly” or “she said triumphantly” is not advisable.

4. Do Not Construct Awkward Adverbs

3. Be Clear

When you write make sure your intent is clear.

2. Revise and Rewrite

Save the original and what you have rewritten. Write, and revise, and be brave to experiment with what you have written.

1. Omit Needless Words

One Elemental Writing Guide

The Elements of Style, in addition to advising on composition and style, has a section on grammar, “Elementary Rules of Usage,” and a chapter on “Misused Words and Expressions.” The book is an excellent reference for writers who want to understand the basic elements of writing. I keep a copy of the 4 oz book in my bag and read it when I am waiting in line at the doctor's office, or waiting for my peas to cook.

Do you have a copy of The Elements of Style? We will be giving away a copy to five randomly selected writers who comment by next Tuesday, January 24.

What is your best advice about writing style? Let us know in the comments.


For today's practice, you have two choices:

  • Take a section from something you have already written and edit it using one or more of the tips above.
  • Or, write something new using the suggestions listed above. Perhaps your story will be about someone waiting for their peas to cook.

Whichever practice you choose, write for fifteen minutes. When you're done, please share your writing in the comments section and give your fellow writers feedback and encouragement.

Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at pamelahodges.com.

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