“The Elements of Style” Never Loses Luster for Lovers of Language

Dec 9, 2020

While our digital age has ushered in not a few changes with respect to the written word and how we communicate, there is a 100+-year-old book that still has something to offer our sophisticated new world.

The Elements of Style, written by William Strunk Jr. and later updated by E.B White, is a valuable reference tool – still on many writers’ desks, or digitally as an app on smart phones.

Strunk was a 20th Century Cornell University professor; E.B. White, a contributor to The New Yorker magazine and author of the children’s book, Charlotte’s Web.

The guide is just 85 pages in length.  But therein lies its beauty, simplicity and clarity.

“Vigorous writing is concise,” Strunk writes.  “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Other reminders for PR pros in the business of storytelling:

  • Use the active voice
  • Write with nouns and verbs
  • Do not overwrite
  • Do not overstate
  • Make sure the reader knows who is speaking
  • Be clear
  • Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity

Besides elementary rules of usage and principles of English composition, White included a section entitled, “An Approach to Style.”

“In the days when I was sitting in [Strunk’s] class, he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself – a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had outdistanced the clock,” White writes.

This is a keen reminder that while an unlimited resource, words should be used with care and as if there are only so many to go around.

Philip Anast

Philip has been building, managing and executing PR programs for technology providers since 1995. Using the power of storytelling and influencer relations, he has launched new companies, brands and products, resulting in market penetration, market share growth and corporate acquisition for such clients as HP, Language Analysis Systems, Motorola and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Prior to joining Amendola Communications, Philip worked at Chicago-based PR firm Tech Image, serving in various roles over his 15-year tenure, including managing client programs, providing strategic counsel, pitching new business, growing client relationships, teaching best practices and managing finances. During that time, he served several clients targeting the healthcare/HIT sector, including NEC Display Solutions, IBS (now Iptor Supply Chain Systems) and Cleo. Philip also has worked in the technology practices of Hill and Knowlton and Porter Novelli. He began his PR career at U.S. Robotics and 3Com. Philip holds bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University.