October 10, 2011

Writers Tips #80: Strunk and White’s Reminders

writers tips

Great tips for soon-to-be great writers

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

These are from Strunk and White’s classic, Elements of Style. In their little 105-page book–still considered the gold standard in writing rules–they include what they call ‘reminders’. These are tips essential to good writing, easy to follow, but sometimes forgotten in the flush of prose. Here they are:

  1. Place yourself in the background
  2. Write in a way that comes naturally
  3. Work from a suitable design
  4. Write with nouns and verbs
  5. Revise and rewrite
  6. Do not overwrite
  7. Do not overstate
  8. Avoid the use of qualifiers
  9. Do not affect a breezy manner
  10. Use orthodox spelling
  11. Do not explain too much
  12. Do not construct awkward adverbs
  13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking
  14. Avoid fancy words
  15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good
  16. Be clear
  17. Do not inject opinion
  18. Use figures of speech sparingly
  19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity
  20. Avoid foreign languages
  21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat

I confess, I use #17 and #18 too often, and have a large section in my first thriller that tramples all over #20. How about you?


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me

%d bloggers like this: