Keeping it Simple; The Elements of Style

Posted by on September 18, 2010 at 8:11 pm.

Elements of Style: William Strunk & E.B. White

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White has graced my bookshelf for numerous years, I can’t find my copy.  During the house renovations it was packed (or given) away. I was familiar with E.B. White, having read Charlotte’s Webb (along with a few of his other books) as a young child. However, I hadn’t heard about William Strunk until reading the book. Many times, I’ve curled up with the book and read it like a novel. It helped a lot with my freelance writing.

I appreciate the rules, listed within the slim book but I don’t always follow that style in my personal writing. In freelance writing, I usually follow this style when writing health related articles. This book is a reminder that I don’t need a lot of words, to make a point.

Writing for Livestrong magazine, I realized quickly not following guidelines, the copy editor will send back my work with a rewrite request. Admittedly, I needed a gentle reminder with my first article. I tried to sneak in unnecessary words, even though I’d read the guidelines. Naturally, it was sent back with a rewrite request, I made the changes, my rewrite was accepted and the article published.

Admittedly, the hardest part (for me) was writing in third person (avoiding “I”, “we”, or “you”) while still writing in active voice. I haven’t done that in a while. Because of that, I took my time to write the articles before submitting them.  The three topics I wrote were; Ways to lower your cholesterol, benefits of B12 and iron, and how to burn 750 calories. I enjoyed working in vegetarian choices with the first two. Admittedly, I can write those articles without thinking, since those are topics I’ve researched religiously. However, I do  include references supporting my claims. Livestrong requires that with all its writers.

Yesterday I ordered the 50th anniversary edition of The Elements of Style. It arrived at my doorstep this afternoon, now that’s efficient service.

14 Comments

  • Mike says:

    Since I don’t do any writing other than my blog and blog comment, I wouldn’t have much use for a book like that. I couldn’t tell you what most of the rules of usage are for sentence structure, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t butcher the language very much. For some reason or another, English just “clicked” for me in school. I guess I internalized most it.

    Poor grammar and bad style in technical documents really bothers me. One of my responsibilities was to write and maintain training manuals on my assigned topics. I always endeavored to make my manuals easy to read and technically accurate. I had two electronic systems that I wrote so that operators with a mechanical background would be able to understand the material.

    Unfortunately, most of my fellow instructors only aimed for technical accuracy. Sometimes, it didn’t seem to matter how readable it was so long as there were no technical errors.

    Though I never take them off the shelf, I do have “The Little, Brown Handbook,” ” A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations,” “Copyediting – A Practical Guide,” and MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Little, Brown is from college. The rest were all purchased when I was first building content online — never did get much use out of them.
    Mike recently posted..Ants!

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    Healthy Opal Reply:

    Hi @Mike,
    That was my issue, cutting the excess and making sure it was readable. When I worked for a health insurance company I wrote manuals too, I kept it simple and tried to write in a way that the majority could understand.

    I have the MLA Handbook and The Little, Brown, Handbook on my bookshelf. I also have the AP Stylebook aka The Journalist Bible. I had to brush up on the AP Stylebook since I really haven’t had to use that in a few years. With the first article, writing in active voice, while using third person was the biggest challenge since I do use “I”, “you”, and “we”, quite often in personal writing. 🙂

    Parenthetical phrases were a minor issue; you can’t use them at Livestrong. Overall I’ve enjoyed the experience, the senior editor assigned to me, was very helpful and more importantly I learned a few ways to tweak my research articles to make them pop.

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  • Brenda says:

    I would love to see your stuff on lowering cholesterol. Where can I see it? And I wish you a fabulous and successful week.

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    Healthy Opal Reply:

    Hi @Brenda,
    That article hasn’t been published yet, the Dash Diet is an extremely effective way to lower cholesterol. Although I’d already known this fact, digging into the research aspect was very helpful since I was referenced a case study that showed a lowering of LDL cholesterol when people followed the diet.
    The one that is published is What foods contain B12 and iron? Although I didn’t necessarily agree with the B12 for Vegans, since there is some interesting claims of how you can get those needs met via plant based sources, I didn’t add them since there isn’t enough evidence. However, I do know from personal experience my B12 has increased without supplementation. I get tested for B12. I’d love to see more information about that. In time, I’m sure we will. Interestingly enough many that follow “normal healthy diets” are not getting all their nutritional requirements, perhaps I’ll do a post on that here. It’s something I’ve always suspected, and was confirmed when I researched the topic.

    I’ve written briefly about the DASH Diet. It’s low sodium and high in fresh fruit and vegetables. Meat is viewed more as a condiment. I’ve taken numerous classes in nutrition, so I’m fairly knowledgeable about the topic. I’ve thought about one day getting a degree in nutrition but I’m still unsure. 🙂

    Livestrong doesn’t pay as much as some of the other client’s, I’ve written for (only $25 per article) I really don’t mind writing there. Livestrong reaches a much larger audience than I can on my sites (and in some cases more than I can with the print publications too) so I look at it as a way to showcase my work. With the other low paying sites where I’ve written articles, I did receive work from much larger paying clients, since they were able to locate me via my websites.

    Interestingly enough Livestrong and Demand Studios have come under a lot of fire by some “real writers.” Some view anyone who writes there as being duped. I’m not, I know exactly what the pay is, I’m not writing their daily, although I know several who do. I do think in their case it’s a way to get paid quickly. In print publication, at times you have to wait months before being paid. That’s not helpful if you need the money quickly. I’ve met other professionals such as; Doctors, nutritionist, lawyers, physical therapist, copy editor’s etc. that write at Demand Studios, naturally they have a variety of reasons why they write. Some use their real name while others use a pen name.

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  • Rev says:

    Simple, clean and usable are the best elements of design.
    Rev recently posted..10 Brilliantly Designed Movie Posters

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    Healthy Opal Reply:

    Hey @Rev,

    Thanks for stopping by. You can’t beat that. I follow similar guidelines with my websites. 🙂
    Healthy Opal recently posted..My first Demand Studios payout

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  • Patricia says:

    Thanks for the recommended reading. Best to do the homework before starting to submit articles for publishing eh??!! Informative article which should help all aspiring freelance writers.
    Patricia Perth Australia
    Patricia recently posted..Lavender- Is it an endangered species

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    Healthy Opal Reply:

    Hi @Patricia,

    Agreed, I’m always looking for ways to improve myself. Although I’m happy with where I’m at, I also know additional places I can be too.
    Healthy Opal recently posted..Busy as a bee Taking care of customers and additional writing projects

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  • Evelyn says:

    Hi Opal,

    Thanks for sharing this information. Sounds like a book that I need to add to my library. When I order, I will come back and order via you.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Evelyn
    Evelyn recently posted..A Happy Countenance Does the Heart Good

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    Healthy Opal Reply:

    Hi @Evelyn,

    Thanks, It’s a very slim book but it can make you realize at times, well you don’t need to add a lot of fluff. Over the years, I’ve noticed when writing health related topics, those that have read my articles seemed to like simple and concise information. In that aspect, I’ve been appreciative for Demand Studios since I’m forced to stick to a format.

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  • Mitch says:

    You know, that’s one of the problems of writing for sites like that. It can really put a crimp in your personal style. I know it’s for someone else, but when you’ve gone to the sites where those articles are sometimes you see some product that makes you wonder how it got approved while they gave you grief.
    Mitch recently posted..The Art Of Public Speaking

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    HealthyOpal Reply:

    Hello @Mitch,

    I agree with you, it was tough getting used to the various styles. There are a few styles that I haven’t tried yet, such as “Lists”. I’m very comfortable with the About style, since my writing style when writing those types of pieces are similar, so I’m sticking with that.

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  • Hi Opal,
    The book you mentioned will prove to be very useful for writers that have their work published on magazines and other types of papers. I too have difficulty writing in third person, but I guess I don’t have to adjust drastically since I only get to write on blogs and online.
    Felicia @ No Deposit Poker recently posted..24hPoker looking for pros

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