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Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,974 ratings  ·  174 reviews
Walter H. Crockett
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This little-known gem is the very best American book on writing and grammar. I have found it immensely valuable over an 18-year career as newspaper reporter, magazine editor, columnist and technical writer. Williams teaches you to write clearly and directly, to eliminate the bureaucratic bull and to make your sentences sing. When I
Paperback, 309 pages
Published May 1st 1999 by Addison-Wesley (first published 1981)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  1,974 ratings  ·  174 reviews

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This book changed the way I think about sentence structure, and I'm the type of girl who thinks about sentence structure all the time. ...more
Nov 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: English teachers, writers & editors
Shelves: reference-works
This is a brilliant little guide to improving your writing that I wish I had known about when I was an English teacher.

Williams begins with the basics and builds up to chapters on style and usage. The underlying themes throughout are two: Good writing is not limited to professional authors - anyone can do it with sufficient practice and a decent amount of concern about what you write; and the rules of grammar and syntax are guides to clear communication. Writers can "bend" and even break them in
Nov 10, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-school
Not too bad for an English textbook. My favorite parts are when Williams makes the very mistakes he chastises other writers for doing.
Dec 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, non-fiction
Writing is a difficult task (to say nothing of writing with a second language), no one is in more need of guidance and help than a writer who doesn’t know how to put her thoughts into words in a captivating and convincing way. “Style toward Clarity and Grace” can help, it is a thorough, elaborated yet comprehensible guide book on communicating complexity effectively and elegantly. The precursor of this book was a text book of writing for undergraduate students in US, which is to say this may not ...more
Patrick Garrett
A Rather Expensive Guide with Little Unique Content

Though well written--a prerequisite for a style book--I wasn't blown away by this guide's content. A required text for a rhetorical studies seminar at UC, Riverside, we compared this book with Virginia Tufte's Artful Sentences to glean practical value from a spectrum of books that have the intention of distilling style into a couple hundred pages. The approach in this text comes in response to, and in some ways falls short of, the seminal Elemen
Cathy Douglas
Feb 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference-books
This is my favorite left-brained writing book. It's taking me forever to read it, but that's okay, and when I finish, I might just go back and read it again. I like it that Williams gets me to think about sentences. I naturally write like a runner, as if getting to the finish line first were the only measure of success. I'm too damn old to run like a runner any more, no why not plug on with paragraphs and pages as if they were timed laps on the track? But of course that isn't the way writing wor ...more
I especially appreciated lessons 6, 7, and 8.
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students and writers
Recommended to Zezee by: English professor
As posted on Zezee with Books.

In my short lifetime of 23 or 24 years, I’ve read various grammar books and booklets but this is the first that I’ve encountered one that is easy to read, understand, and even enjoy. Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams was a joy to read. I could hardly put it down at times. The language was clear and his examples and explanations were easy to follow and comprehend. The only problem that I encountered while reading this booklet was a personal
Omar Halabieh
Mar 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently finished reading Style - The Basics of Clarity and Grace - by Joseph M. Williams.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

When we don't know what we're talking about (or have no confidence in what we do know) we typically write long sentences choked with abstract words.

I suspect that those who choose to observe all the rules all the time do so not because they think they are protecting the integrity of the language or the quality of our culture, but
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a Spanish native speaker that learned how to chew some words in English rather than formally took classes in a language school: that's on life, true; but is not an excuse to conduct me incorrectly using English as my professional language: that's on me.

I've got the recommendation of this volume from my Ph.D. advisor.
Might sound trite, but because of he is neither a native English speaker, he had understood the power of written expression in conveying an idea, more importantly when it is no
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: advanced undergrads, grad students, scholars who can't master coherent writing
Shelves: writing
I'm so happy I met this book.

In contrast to many writing guides, it does not offer any pedestrian advice on common mistakes such as its/it's or affect/effect, it does not overuse jargon, and it does not digress from its purpose. It provides clear, step-by-step instructions for writing tighter sentences and more coherent paragraphs.

A lot of stuff I read in grad school is so dense and cluttered that it is barely comprehensible, so I'm glad that there is a book on how to write sentences that are
Ksenia Anske
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A book to buy to have in your reference library, along with The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style. Though you'll find it mostly discussing non-fiction examples, the lessons are the same. You can apply them to any writing, fiction included. And you'll chuckle, too, recognizing your own ineptnesses described so eloquently here, and with such fine humor (especially when you get to the last chapter that includes a brief history of good English and the separation of real grammatical r ...more
I fell in love with the way that Williams debunked the invented rules that grammarians use to bludgeon writers and rant about the death of the English language. I don't agree with everything he said, but his book is the first style manual I've ever read that I would have no qualms about suggesting to others. ...more
Stephanie Wilcox
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We used this book in one of our editing courses this year, and honestly it was phenomenal. Everything was broken down and explained really well, and I learned a lot about writing in English that subconsciously I knew as a fluent speaker and writer, but hadn't consciously recognized. It's changed how I write and organize my papers in my other courses this year! ...more
5+ stars & 9/10 hearts. This book is a gem. It was recommended to me by my university copyediting professor when I asked her for help in revising/rewriting. I read it in two days, just before my exam, and walked off enlightened. I’m pretty sure it’s also the reason I did very well on my exam.

This book is sharp, clear, and brief, yet also beautiful, graceful, enjoyable, and witty. In ten chapters, Williams explains succinctly how to write clearly and coherently. A lot of what he said reminded me
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was super interesting and taught me a lot. Already applying what I learned in my work.
Matthew Christian
Oct 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard to read at times but useful
Joe S
Apr 02, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the tens of people out there who actually have to teach reading and writing, I've decided to start reviewing the heap of atrocious textbooks I've had to slog through while building my syllabi.

This book is brilliant. I feel like a better writer for having read it. I wish it had been required when I was taking first-year comp. It fucks the old-school conservativism of Strunk-n-White right in the ear. Williams sidesteps the paralyzing imperatives for pre- and mid-writing processes and skips rig
Jo Deurbrouck
Yum, grammar porn! I could watch Williams parse beautiful, grammatically sophisticated sentences all day long. I also appreciate his easy refreshers for concepts like 'nominalization,' 'summative clause,' and the difference between coherence and cohesion. These things only stay fresh in my mind if I take myself back to school now and then. Some reviewers have dinged the man for being a less-than-graceful writer from time to time. This doesn't detract from the book's value for me. What would, I t ...more
Marc Perry
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you read only one book to improve how you write, edit, and read English prose, then in my opinion, it should be this book by Joseph Williams. This is not a book for the uninitiated. Rather, this is a book for experienced writers who are unhappy with how they write, and are flailing around looking for some way to improve their writing. It is all in here; the history of how the English language assimilated multiple words, with different origins, that have similar or identical meanings; how obtu ...more
Ian Yang
Mar 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
Don't know how I actually bumped into this great book, I guess I was just fortunate when I fortuitously picked the right book that accidentally mentioned it. I wonder why I was never introduced to it when attending university 'cause it not only clarifies plenty of practical and fundamental knowledge about writing in English (or rewriting, quoting the author) but helps a great deal when you want to rephrase a more complex sentence and make it less impersonal and obscure, especially when the mate ...more
There were a lot of relevant writing issues in this book and I felt like it did a good job of explaining the different concepts to make writing sound better and clearer. Every chapter featured a different aspect of writing that could be improved. I knew that I did a lot of things this book said were common mistakes and it was nice to see how clunky and cluttered it made writing and how I could fix it. This book helped my writing and offered tips and ways to change my writing to make it more grac ...more
Aug 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writing teachers
Recommended to Beth by: required reading for a class
I had to read this book for a writing class I took called, "Writing, Technology, and Style." Despite some places where I felt where Williams went into too much detail, I thoroughly enjoyed his chapter on usage because it was just another tally mark of books that I've read that talk about how teaching nothing but grammar to students actually makes them worse writers. Again, there were quite a few chapters in this book that I glossed over because some of the things Williams was saying were too com ...more
May 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gives great examples of clear, concise writing along with examples of less clear, less concise writing. Provides grammatical & syntactic explanations for why certain sentences are clearer or less clear. These examples and practice exercises help me to think about the phrasing and pacing of my sentences as I write.
Oct 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the best "how to" book I've ever read. Williams breaks the writing process into 10 key elements that ensure that the message is correct and will be read. He provides many examples and goes through the process of editing samples from good to really great. Chapter 9, Elegance, is absolutely amazing. I need to reread this book! ...more
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly elegant manual on writing mostly for research purposes. Each chapter is preceded by quotes that illustrate the point of the following section beautifully, poetically. The writing is so clear and direct yet friendly and inviting, I'd love to write half as well as the author of this manual. ...more
Kristin Canfield
I read this book one lesson at a time over several months and I found it incredibly useful for improving my writing in a practical sense. So many books on style give prescriptions for what good writing looks like without telling you how to get there. I'll return to these exercises when revising my work in the future. ...more
Mar 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever thought of your sentences as stories? Do you want to see someone take a stab at defining "elegance" in writing? Check out Williams. I tutor in a writing center and we read this book as part of our tutoring preparation. A practical step above Strunk & White, in my opinion. ...more
Public Words
Dec 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want to learn how to write well, with elegance and power, this is the only book after Strunk and White that will tell you how. Williams has figured out some aspects of writing no one else has.
Jun 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Very, very clear, well written, and it explains the dilemmas and controversies of style. It is designed to empower the reader to make their own decisions about rules and choose a style, rather than suggesting a "best" style and how to follow it. ...more
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