Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Originally written and published a century ago by Cornell University Professor William Strunk, Jr., and updated decades later by E.B. White, this classic text on writing, The Elements of Style, has guided myriads of writers and editors, its fourth edition having been published in 2000.

Here are excerpts from the “little book,” with its original words in boldface, followed by my own examples and comments:


1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s.
A dog’s life, Tom’s pen, Charles’s paper

2. In a series of three of more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
This, that, and the other

3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
It is best, at least most of the time, to avoid parentheses.

4. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing a co-ordinate clause.
This is often done incorrectly, and yet it is important.

5. Do not join independent clauses by a comma.
This is often done incorrectly; it is important.

6. Do not break sentences in two.
Be sure. Not to. Or only rarely!

7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
Trying to write well, you should heed this rule.


8. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic.

9. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning.

10. Use the active voice.
Active: She wrote the poem. Passive: The poem was written by her.

11. Put statements in positive form.

12. Use definite, specific, concrete language.

13. Omit needless words.

14. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
Loose sentences are distinguished from periodic ones, where the meaning becomes clear only at the end.

15. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form.
Parallelism in sentence structure.

16. Keep related words together.

17. In summaries, keep to one tense.

18. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.
Easier said than done.


Under each section of this valuable book appear examples and discussions. There is much more to the book, available from, for example, Amazon. Look for THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, by Strunk and White.

Dr. Cooper ( is a retired scientist, now a writer, editor, and writing coach. His first book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, was published by Outskirts Press in 2011 and is available from Outskirts Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, in paperback and ebook formats, also available are two memoirs he subsequently co-authored, The Shield of Gold and Kidnapped Twice, and two memoirs he edited, High Shoes and Bloomers and But…at What Cost. On Twitter, he’s @douglaswcooper. His editing and coaching site is

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