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Comparing Strunk and White to Williams

October 27, 2011

When I was reading through both Style Guides, I found a few of the same problems and ideas coming up in the work of both of the authors. I felt, primarily, that it was odd, as people that were trying to educate people that, presumably, don’t already know these rules, that these authors used such difficult language. If Strunk and White’s book was as long as Williams’s book, I don’t think I could have gotten through it at all. I have to wonder, though, if this is just intellectual ignorance, or an overt condescension on the part of two authors that saw themselves as about the level of writing that the common man was capable of. Of the two, I feel like Williams did a better job of getting the ideas he wanted across to the average person that may have picked up his book, and his ideas were more usable to an advanced writer than Strunk and White, because he would go more in depth with his ideas than the older two writers did. With all of that said, however, I do see some merit for Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style over and above that of Joseph Williams Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. I see the use of The Elements of Style as a quick reference handbook. While Williams’s book was a better general handbook to sit down and read, to improve your writing overall. I feel like Strunk and White’s book can be more easily referenced when you can’t quite remember something while you are already writing. While it may be a chore to pull out William’s style guide and look through everything in a specific chapter until you find the specific piece of information that you’re looking for, you can pull out Strunk and White, look at which chapter the information you feel you need is in, and look for the heading in bold. Once you arrive at that heading, you may read a page or two and find all of the information you could possibly need on the topic that you need it on. I feel that both of the guides also offered some things that could be considered subjective, rather than objective. The “Usage” section of Williams’s book was very much his opinion in some places, as these things can be mutable, and should not be presented as hard fact. Language changes. In Strunk and White, their last section, “An Approach to Style” seems to be rather subjective as well, with their own opinions on how things should be done thrown in. At least in Strunk and White though, they seem to be acknowledging that this is just their opinions, and not a concrete “this is the only way to do it” section, unlike the rest of the book, which is very much that. Overall, I think in terms of basic rules of grammar and usage, these books are very similar and offer a good general guide to style for the average or advanced writer.

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