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Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace

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Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (also known as Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace and Style: Toward Clarity and Grace) is a book by Joseph M. Williams, late professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. The author claims and aspires to demonstrate that “it is good to write clearly, and anyone can.” (Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (9th Edition) 4). The book, based on a course, "The Little Red Schoolhouse," taught for many years at Chicago by Williams,[1] has gone through numerous editions and become a popular text for writing classes.

309 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1981

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Joseph M. Williams

32 books24 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 179 reviews
Profile Image for Terence.
1,160 reviews387 followers
March 17, 2009
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 the interests of that communication.

Definitely recommended to anyone who writes (prose, poetry or nonfiction) and to those of us who edit them.
10 reviews1 follower
November 20, 2008
Not too bad for an English textbook. My favorite parts are when Williams makes the very mistakes he chastises other writers for doing.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
20 reviews15 followers
August 16, 2014
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 be the right book for everyone. A couple of things ESL learners may want to know before they pick up this book: it says little about grammar, nothing about choosing the right words and collocation; it is not a book on how to write correctly, but how to write well.
  This book consists of 8 parts: causes, clarity, cohesion, emphasis, coherence, concision, length, elegance and usage. At the very first beginning of the book, Mr.Williams shows us it is very difficult to write in a clear, precise and elegant style by providing examples of professional and educated writings that doesn’t measure up to this standard. After explaining why it is easy to fall short, he uses the following parts to deal with sentences construction and prose rendering: in parts that titled clarity, cohesion and emphasis Mr Williams teaches us skills from the basic level of constructing a sentence as readable and unequivocal to the advanced level of refining a sentence as graceful and powerful; in parts that titled coherence, concision and length he centers on ways of linking sentences smoothly and climatically, and then, on manners of unveiling sufficient evidence to entrance the readers rather than to stifle them; in the part titled elegance he talks about the whole presentation of writing as in how to write beautifully even poetically (the more advanced writing tools such as metaphor and rhythm are briefly mentioned in this part.)
  One of the things that makes this book great is that it doesn’t instill dogmas like other writing books always do, Mr Williams provides methods that can be used to make our writing clear and elegant at the same time empathizes the importance of maintaining our creativity and cultivating our own style. In the final part, Mr Williams introduces the idea that some grammar rules can be broken to best serve our writing.
  Reading this book was a journey that taught me the playfulness and fulfillment of writing, it not only helps me write better but also inspires me to write more.
Profile Image for Patrick Garrett.
23 reviews2 followers
August 7, 2013
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 Elements of Style. That is, presenting some fundamental rules, which claim to be more universal than others, and urging writers to adopt them judiciously. Tufte's approach, however, categorizing sentences broadly and provides many (my classmates thought too many) examples in each category--a stylistic immersion of a kind. If immersion isn't for you, and you're looking for a sort of check-list for grammar and style, I would suggest going with Elements of Style. If you've already read EOS, your looking for the same rules in a fresh voice, and you have a few bucks to spend, go ahead and buy this guide.
Profile Image for Joe S.
42 reviews108 followers
April 3, 2008
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 right to rewriting, walking through the revision process on a sentence level. And not once does he say "you must" or "you must never" (two phrases that freeze freshman brains quicker than "pop quiz"). Instead, he basically says readers are monkeys who need help understanding. And here's how you lead those monkeys by the hand. Subtle change in focus, huge change in distribution of power.

Less one star for the omnipresent linguistic terms that even I didn't remember. I'm not quite sure it was absolutely necessary to refer so often to nominalizations and resumptive modifiers. Probably not so good for an ESL class. Or maybe even better. I'd never have known what the crunk a resumptive modifier was if I hadn't taken a foreign language.
Profile Image for Anna.
Author 3 books40 followers
May 20, 2018
I especially appreciated lessons 6, 7, and 8.
Profile Image for Omar Halabieh.
217 reviews63 followers
March 27, 2016
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 because they want to assert a style of their own.

We began with two principles: •Make central characters subjects of verbs. • Use verbs to name the actions those characters are involved in.

Most readers prefer subjects of verbs to name the main characters in your story, and those main characters to be flesh-and-blood characters. When you write about concepts, however, you can turn them into virtual characters by making them the subjects of verbs that communicate actions.

Your readers want you to use the end of your sentences to communicate two kinds of difficulty: long and complex phrases and clauses; and new information, particularly unfamiliar technical terms.

Five Principles of Concision: 1. Delete words that mean little or nothing. 2. Delete words that repeat the meaning of other words. 3. Delete words implied by other words. 4. Replace a phrase with a word. 5. Change negatives to affirmatives.

A highly recommended read in the area of writing.
Profile Image for Ksenia Anske.
Author 10 books618 followers
December 2, 2016
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 rules from mere linguistic folklore insisted upon by purists but ignored by all good writers).
275 reviews3 followers
November 27, 2021
Style, Lessons in Clarity and Grace
Williams, Joseph M.; Bizup, Joseph.
1 Style as Choice
• Styles are not rules but choices.
• Writing rules are divided into grammatical rules (mandated) and style rules (optimal).
• An important set of modern rules are about gender pronouns. We appear to be modern when following these rules.
2 Clarity
2.1 Lesson 2 Actions (Sentence level)
• Identify the focus of your sentence: who does what. Make the focus the subject and action of your sentence.
• Avoid long, complex subject parts. Usually, that should not be your subject. For example, don’t say “the expectation of John is that,” but say “John expects that.”
• Avoid nominalization (nouns that represent actions). Use action verbs directly.
• However, nominalization can be useful when you want to make the action as subject (e.g., to connect with the last sentence for better flow or to focus on the fact that the action happened) or object, or when the nominalization words are familiar (such as request or examination).
2.2 Lesson 3 Characters
• This lesson continues with the last one in cleaning up the subject-action relationship.
• To clean up a complex sentence, you need to find ALL subjects involved. A sentence can have multiple subjects embedded in clauses and proposition phases. You need to pick the central one for the main sentence or use multiple sentences to place all of them.
• Often, the subject is missing from the original sentence (e.g., “Expectation of success is an important motivator.” It could mean “we are more motivated if we expect success.”). The writer needs to fill in the subject based on his best judgment or use passive voice.
• Inanimate things can also be subject. In the above example, it is OK to use expectation as a subject, except it is a nominalization to be avoided.
o You can also tell stories whose main characters are abstractions, even nominalizations. All things being equal, you should prefer concrete characters. But there are circumstances when a more abstract version of a story is better.
• Avoid excessive abstractions that could bury the real focal points.
o Most readers want the subjects of verbs to name flesh-and-blood characters. But often, you must write about abstractions. When you do, turn them into virtual characters by making them the subjects of verbs that tell a story. If readers are familiar with your abstractions, no problem. But when they are not, avoid using many other abstract nominalizations around them. When you revise an abstract passage, you may have a problem if the hidden characters are “people in general.” Unfortunately, unlike many other languages, English offers no good way to name a generic “doer.” Try a general term for whoever is doing the action, such as researchers, social critics, one, and so on. If that won’t work, try “we.”
• Possible reasons for using passive voice:
o The readers do not need to know or care about the actor.
o Avoid “first-person” descriptions to make it sound more objective (“The work was evaluated” vs. “I evaluated the work”).
o A smoother movement from the last sentence (starting with the last thing mentioned before)
o Provide a more consistent and appropriate point of view: the same thing that receives multiple actions
• Metadiscourse is the text that revers not to a writer’s subject matter but to the writer, the reader, or the writing itself. It deviates from the main thread of writing. While metadiscourse should not be used excessively, it is often used even in scholarly papers, especially in introductions and conclusions, where the writer would wish to be more personal. Here are some examples
o To explain your thinking or writing: In this paper, we will argue/claim/ show...; I conclude from these data that...
o To trace logic or form of your argument: First...; In addition...; Most important...; Consequently...
o To address your readers: As you recall...; Consider...
o To describe the organization of your document: This paper is divided into three parts…; Our arguments proceed as follows…
o To refer to other parts of your document: In the passage above...; As demonstrated by Figure 1...
o To express a stance or point of view: Not unexpectedly...; We concur that...; It seems unlikely that...
o To hedge or intensify your argument: usually, perhaps, seems, in some respects...; very, clearly, certainly... (I discuss hedges and intensifiers more in Lesson 8.)
• Using first-person instead of passive voice is more appropriate in metadiscourses.
• Long noun sequences, although sometimes necessary and concise, make sentences dense. They can be changed by adding relational propositions or converting them to subject-action pairs.
• Shorter subjects (as opposed to long phrases or subclauses) make the sentences easier to understand. They provide a center for the reader to know the focus of the sentence.
2.3 Lesson 4 Cohesion and Coherence
• Cohesion means a smooth flow between sentences. It works well by the “old to new” principle.
o Start with the information that the reader already knows (mentioned in the last sentence or familiar in general).
o End with new information
o Start with simple concepts and end with more complex ones
o You need to balance sentence clarity (e.g., avoiding passive voices) with the need for cohesion, which requires ordering the sentence parts in a certain way. If you must tradeoff, favor cohesion.
• Coherence is about a group of sentences forming a whole picture. An example of an incoherent passage would be a paragraph written by different people; each only knows the previous sentence. The text may flow well from sentence to sentence but does not provide anything meaningful as a whole.
o A reader wishes to grasp the topic of each sentence or clause quickly and see how the topics are connected over multiple sentences. Note that topics are not necessarily grammatical subjects, although it is a good idea for clarity to make the topic the subject.
o One way to keep the focus is using the same topic for a sequence of sentences. For example, when discussing how to write for clarity, we can use “readers” as the common topic when addressing several concepts instead of making these concepts as subjects.
o You should also put the topic at the beginning of the sentence so a reader can easily spot it. At the same time, a sentence should start with concepts or topics that are familiar (by common knowledge or by previous mentions) to the reader (cohesiveness).
o In a paragraph, the topics should form a small set of related ideas (coherence).
o To identify topics you should use, imagine giving the paragraph a title. Words contained in the title are candidates for topics in the paragraph.
• Beginning a sentence with topic words is not always easy. We tend to start a sentence with metadiscourses that link to the previous ones or introduce modifiers to limit or predicate our statements. [However, I often feel that the metadiscourses and predicates are more important than the topic and should lead the sentences.]
• Don’t sacrifice consistency and focus for the sake of variety. Don’t vary sentence structures so that the topics are obscured in some sentences. Don’t change the words in topics for diversity because consistent wording helps a reader spot the common subject.
• Cohesion and coherence are about making text easier to understand when it introduces new information and concepts. This task is difficult because the writer is already familiar with the subject and cannot identify with a reader who may have difficulty understanding. Careful and conscious editing is necessary.
• Be careful when using connecting devices such as “therefore,” “however,” etc., to ensure they reflect the correct logical relationships. Otherwise, these words may create faked coherence. Spare words such as and, also, moreover, another, and so on because they are often not necessary when listing multiple things.
• Summary of the Tips
o Place the subject as close as possible to the beginning of the sentence. Start with old and familiar information and lead to new and unfamiliar ones.
o In a paragraph, use a small set of closely related topics. When necessary, use a common topic (such as the researcher or the report) to connect the disparate concepts involved.
2.4 Lesson 5 Emphasis
• Once we place the subject and actions, we continue to discuss the orders and positions of the rest of the sentence.
• A sentence is easier to understand if it progresses from simple to complex components. Complexity is based on grammatical structures and/or terms (such as unfamiliar technical terms).
• End a sentence with emphases, which is usually the new information. This practice requires trimming the unnecessary phases at the end (e.g., those already implied by the rest of the sentence). The rule may require moving some sentence parts to the beginning, which is a tradeoff with the earlier rules of starting with subject and action.
• Six ways for emphasizing
1. Use “empty words” such as “there is …” to begin a sentence to shift the stress to a later position. This is a tradeoff with the clarity rule against using empty words as subjects.
2. Use passive voice to put the actor in a later position.
3. Use “what we need is…” to emphasize the real target. This is similar to the first way.
4. Use “It” as a placeholder for the actual subject: “It seems that inevitable that …” This is again similar to the first way. But it has the added advantage of making the sentence head-light.
5. Use “not only, but also” instead of “and” to stress the latter item. Note that this is discouraged by the “Grammarly” tool.
6. If you need to end a sentence with a word used before, try to replace it with a pronoun or just omit it. Otherwise, the reader will have a mental voice drop at the end, and the intended stress would be lost.
• Emphasizing in a paragraph. To make a paragraph more consistent and understandable, we should stick with a few topic words and use them to construct all sentences. These topic words should be emphasized in the topic sentence (the first sentence), so the reader is clear about the focus of the paragraph.
3 Clarity of Form
This part is about organizing the entire documents.
3.1 Lesson 6 Framing Documents
This lesson discusses introductions and conclusions.
o The functions of an introduction are 1) tell readers what to expect (what); 2) motivate readers to read it (so what). Be careful, do not assume readers already know as much as the author about the structure and importance.
o An introduction can use the following format: shared context, problem, solution/main point/claim.
 The shared context is widely acceptable facts, values, or experiences
• In an academic paper, the shared context can be several paragraphs in the form of a literature review. However, in other documents, it can be much shorter.
• Sometimes people introduce the common context and then challenges it, opening the essay.
 Problem: the specific topic to be addressed.
• A problem includes a situation and its consequence.
• A problem can be either conceptual or practical. The former usually takes more explanation.
 Solution: proposal: what we should do and/or what we should think.
o Prelude: another part of the introduction. It can be a quotation, an anecdote, a striking fact, etc. It is used to grab initial attention.
o The inclusion and extension of these parts depend on the presumed reader’s knowledge about the topic.
o There should be a clear division of the three parts in the introduction. For example, use “but” or “however” to transition from shared context to the problem.
o Put the solution or claim to the end of the introduction for emphasis.
o Clearly signal the end of the introduction.
o Conclusions contain three parts: summary, significance, and further thoughts.
3.2 Lesson 7 Framing Sections
Section means section, subsection, or a group of paragraphs. They are a part of the whole document.
o Make the readers clear on the section structure
o Signal the beginning and end of a section, either by subtitles or by some transition sentences.
o Provide a short segment that introduces the section. The introduction should announce the section theme, tied to the claims or statements forecasted in the document introduction.
o In the body of the section, use the concepts announced in the introduction to organize the section and repeat them regularly.
o The introduction part of a section should include the topic terms of the paragraph.
o Make the readers clear on each part of the section
o Clarify how each piece of information relates to the points of the section. It can be background, point itself, supporting reasons or facts, explanation of how reasons and facts support the point or consideration of other points of view.
o Clarify how parts of the document are organized. The organization can be chronological, logical, or coordinating.
o Each paragraph, which can be long or short depending on the genre, contains an introduction part that outlines the framing (why the paragraph is here), the points, and how you plan to make the points. Make sure your main point appears at either the beginning or end of the paragraph.
o In general, a writing unit is easier to understand if it begins with a short and easy segment that frames the longer and more complex segments that follow. This principle applies to sentences, paragraphs, sections, and documents.
The tradeoff of templated writing
• When following the rules outlined in this part of the book, some authors may question these rules’ necessity and feel they suppress creativity.
• The templates help the readers to follow the points. In most cases, the readers are looking for easily accessible information instead of creativity. So they will be grateful if the document follows a predictable pattern.
• Although we, as writers, are conscious of the rules we must follow, the readers may not feel it is unnatural.
• As another book said, it is OK to break the rules sometimes, especially when your large-scale structure is good but some sentences or paragraphs are less conforming. However, you need to show you understand the rules before getting the freedom to violate them.
4 Grace
4.1 Lesson 8 Concision
Concision is about compacting writing and avoiding wasted words. More compact writing is easier to understand and more powerful. We can perform the following editing to achieve concision:
• Delete meaningless “helper” words: kind of, actually, particular, really, certain, various, virtually, individual, basically, generally, given, practically, etc.
• Delete doubled “duplicated” works: full and complete, hope and trust, any and all, true and accurate, each and every, basic and fundamental, hope and desire, first and foremost, various and sundry. These pairs sound more learned, but they don’t add to the meaning.
• Delete what is implied: predict future events, completely revolutionary, past history, final outcome, unexpected surprise, period of time, gray in color, dull in appearance, etc.
• Replace a phrase with a word: improve writing -> edit, the thing to do before anything else -> first, use X instead of Y -> replace, sequences of subjects and verbs ->clauses, the same ideas expressed in nouns -> nominalization, the reason for -> why, despite the fact that -> even though, in the event -> if, in a situation where -> when, concerning the matter of -> about, there is a need for -> must, in a position to -> can, prior to -> before
• Change negatives to affirmatives
• Remove redundant metadiscourses (phases that indicate where the discussion is going instead of the discussion itself, such as I believe, as you can see, etc.) They are useful, but too many of them dilute the content.
• Hedges and intensifiers. Removing hedges effectively intensifies the statements. Note that words like obviously, no doubt, may have the opposite effect on the readers, suggesting that the statements are not absolutely credible.
Note that all these edits for concision change the voice of the sentences. So make sure the effect is intended.
4.2 Lesson 9: Shape
This lesson is about how to write long sentences that are easy to grasp.
• Start with your point. Not only do we want to put subject and action at the beginning, but also we should start with the main logical point. That probably means that the subject and action of the sentence should align with our main logical point. The “point first” principle also applies to paragraphs, sections, and documents.
• Avoid starting with a long subclause and get to the subject quickly. Try to move the subclauses to a later position.
• Avoid long subject subclause so a reader can get to the verb and object quickly.
• Avoid interruptions within the subject-verb-object flow.
• Put new and complex information at the end of a sentence.
• Avoid cascading explanation subclauses (sprawl). Try to use other forms such as present participles or break them down into separate sentences. Another way is changing the cascading modifying clauses into parallel modifiers separated by commas.
• In a parallel list, place the short terms before long terms.
• Be careful about grammatical “bugs.”
o Parallels must have the same grammatical structure. For example, don’t list a phrase and a subclause, or a phase and an adverb, as parallels.
o Be careful about connecting words and their logical implications. For example, “and” is for parallel items, not progression ideals.
o Use repeated words instead of pronouns if the pronoun references could be confusing.
o Watch out for confusing pairing of modifiers and what they modify. A more severe case is the dangling modifier, whose grammatical object is not the intended one.
On the other hand, a straightforward sentence is not always the style choice, in my view. Sometimes a slow start provides suspense that piques the reader’s interest. You may also want to slow the reader down to force deliberation.
4.3 Lesson 10 Elegance
This section discusses some techniques for enhancing the impact and power of the text.
• Balance means having corresponding parts in a sentence or parallel components.
o Coordinate balance is components linked by thins like “and,” “but,” “not only, but also,” etc. The parallel parts are not only symmetrical in meaning but also in sound and length.
o Noncoordinate balance correlates parts that are not grammatically equivalent. The parts are tied together in various ways by rhythm, rhyme, structure, etc.
• Emphasis: we can bring weight to the end of the sentence and thus make the sentence more powerful in several ways.
o Weighty words. End the sentence with words that carry more weight. Usually, nouns or nominalizations have more weight. This is a good reason for a
Profile Image for Stephanie.
411 reviews50 followers
May 9, 2023
It's helpful, if not a little tedious at some points, but it wasn't the worst nonfiction reference book I've been required to read for a class.

Even though it offered good insight and tips, I wish the font wasn't so small. I tried to increase font size, only to discover that the feature isn't offered. It also doesn't allow text-to-speech which further dampened my reading experience.
Profile Image for Cara.
110 reviews21 followers
November 17, 2017
This book was super interesting and taught me a lot. Already applying what I learned in my work.
Profile Image for Jonathon Crump.
35 reviews
February 4, 2023
So helpful. The best book on style I’ve read. Reading this has made me a better writer.
Profile Image for Austin Spence.
157 reviews21 followers
December 26, 2021
Learned a lot from this about developing my prose. Many pages exposed me of writing poorly. We will see how successful Mr. Williams was in the spring semester with its many papers.
Profile Image for Drew Perron.
Author 2 books9 followers
February 26, 2017
Style: Toward Clarity and Grace is not a bad book, as books on how to write good English go. It's got a lot of advice, clearly laid-out, and if you follow its teachings, your words will be understandable and get your point across. But it's got a deeper goal here, a meaningful purpose - one that it's too conservative to accomplish.

That's small-c conservative - not in the sense of a political party, but in the sense of being overcautious, having trouble accepting or adjusting to change. The writers want to push past the strict, inflexible rulesets of the past, with their long lists of dos and don'ts that set an arbitrary standard but don't help communication in the slightest; they want to give real, understandable reasons why you would or would not want to use a word, a phrase, a form of sentence or paragraph or document; they want to explain what makes some writing difficult to understand, and other writing lyrical and flowing, and give you the tools to make your writing more like the latter than the former. And to some extent, they succeed - don't get me wrong, there is a lot of useful material in here. But the writers don't realize that they themselves are still clinging to arbitrary standards, still passing them on implicitly and explicitly.

There are so many places where Style pushes against traditional bugaboos. The idea that shorter sentences are necessarily better is taken apart; rules like "nouns shouldn't modify nouns" and "no dangling modifiers" are shown to have no weight in English as it is spoken and written; different ways to design topics are given equal weight and affirmed as equally valuable in different circumstances, with examples taken from great historical luminaries. But there are so many places where the authors not only affirm a linguistic prejudice, they do so without any given reason, confidently declaring that certain words, phrases, methods of speaking, are Just Wrong, Not Proper English, an obvious affront on decent communication. The worst example is in chapter seven, "Concision", where a whole panoply of expression and idiom is dismissed as redundant or meaningless with very little discussion - yet, in the same chapter, subjects like "Excessive Detail" or "Hedges and Emphatics" are worthy of spending pages talking about why one might want to use a specific style (you know, the thing the book is about) even though it's not Concise.

And this is the place that really shows the central problem with the book. "Concision" begins by talking about how to cut meaningless words from an example sentence. Among the things that they cut are the words "in my opinion", and the reason given is that "any statement is implicitly opinion". But in a book like this, an instructional, educational tome adapted from a school textbook, statements are implicitly fact. And if you don’t take steps to sort out the differences between your opinions, which don't need to be justified, and your factual statements, which do, you end up with exactly the kind of arbitrary rules which this book is pushing against.

The goal that Style is reaching for is valuable, and if it cannot reach it, it is at least a step along the path to it. There's a drive here, a meaningful purpose towards making the world better, summed up best, I think, in a paragraph at the end of chapter four, "Emphasis":

"Some teachers of writing want to make voice a moral choice between a false voice and the voice 'authentic'. I suspect that we all speak in many voices, no one of which is more or less false, more or less authentic than any other. When you want to be pompous and authoritative, then that's in the voice you project because that's what you are being. When you want to be laconic and direct, then you should be able to adopt that voice. The problem is to hear the voice you are projecting and to change it when you want to. That's no more false than choosing how you dress, how you behave, how you live."
Profile Image for Jo Deurbrouck.
Author 4 books17 followers
March 16, 2014
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 think, if I had read them, were the exercises. I have no interest in reading bad writing for the sole purpose of practicing ways to improve it. I believe a fine-tuned ear comes from what you read. I skipped all of the exercises, wishing all the while that Williams had taken the Francine Prose approach, giving me page after page of lovely examples I could wallow in instead of messes he thought I'd enjoy cleaning up.
Profile Image for Marc Perry.
Author 5 books6 followers
June 15, 2011
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 obtuse, and turgid, academic writing became in the interest of appearing erudite; and of course, how you can cut, slash, and burn, your own sentences so that they leap off the page in a way that the reader effortlessly absorbs your meaning, intent and thoughts. Williams is phenomenal in his deep understanding of what makes poor writing awful, and what makes good writing delightful.
Profile Image for Ian Yang.
3 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2011
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 materials are offered - those you read in textbooks or professional writing - by someone who isn't capable of writing in a clearer and simpler way. I genuinely believe this book will make a great, life-time companion as my reading and writing experience grows with time.

Profile Image for Laura.
1,616 reviews79 followers
January 1, 2011
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 graceful and elegant. I would recommend this book.

*Taken from my book reviews blog: http://reviewsatmse.blogspot.com/2010...
Profile Image for Beth.
2,914 reviews196 followers
February 11, 2015
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 complicated, but on the whole, I really enjoyed this book.
Profile Image for Emily.
230 reviews7 followers
September 16, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Linda.
352 reviews25 followers
October 14, 2009
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!
Profile Image for Eleanor.
126 reviews35 followers
June 11, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Kristin Canfield.
31 reviews5 followers
July 19, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Anne.
18 reviews
March 28, 2007
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.
13 reviews
December 21, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Katie.
18 reviews1 follower
December 9, 2013
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.
7 reviews
January 10, 2022
Writers who implement the lessons found in "Style" will likely have readers who thank them for it. Readers will more likely be able to understand writers who develop the skills found in this book. "Style" is a 'must-read' for any who aim to write with readers in mind.
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