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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?

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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.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersIMS 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.

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7 thoughts on “Writers Tips #80: Strunk and White’s Reminders

  1. i like #2, use #5 often as I send my blog posts out in first draft and then spend time revising and editing… I’m guilty of all 20 at different points in my writing life. I love S & W. It was required reading back in the day. TY!:-)


  2. I like #2 – although sometimes it can be difficult to just “be yourself” when writing anything. Sometimes I play devil’s advocate, wondering whether it’s best to “be myself” or stay as neutral as possible.


    • It helps that you’re a doctor and write medical mss. That makes it easier to ‘be yourself’. I write about people I have no chance of ever being–a SEAL, submariner, Columbia post-grad. Oh yeah. Living vicariously.


  3. #5 is the most crucial to me. It’s the difference between talent and and honed skill. I have some talent, but I’m still working on the craft. I’ve learned that I cannot let myself get too bogged down with proper semi colon usage or “not explaining too much” in the initial phase. But, I then have to be critical in the revise and rewrite portion. This allows the creativity to flow and still produce technically excellent work (I hope).

    The biggest roadblock for #5… PROCRASTINATION!


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