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Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace

by Joseph M. Williams

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This book did an excellent job providing examples of poor writing and providing exercises in how to fix those problems. The section on clarity was enlightening and well organized. It can be difficult to take on such a challenging topic as style because style has so many different components. Often, a student's writing contains multiple stylistic problems in a single paragraph. Given these problems, it's easy for a professor to throw up their hands and say, "Style is something you either have or don't. I can't teach it (and I like the students who naturally have style more than the others)." Given the difficulty of the topic, I applaud Joseph Williams for attempting to identify what is helpful and what is confusing when writing English prose.

That said, I must warn readers that the book assumes that the reader knows the basics of English grammar. I already knew how to identify the subject and object of a sentence and whether a sentence was passive or active. Without this prior knowledge, I probably would have been completely lost when reading this book.

William's book provides a good organizational structure and provides many useful examples to help students tackle this challenging aspect of writing.

When Williams discusses clarity, he talks about action, characters, cohesion & coherence, and emphasis. This was a good ordering. While many professors tell students to use active verbs, Williams was the first to discuss the topic of nominalization of verbs and adjectives. Nominalization is when a verb or adjective is changed into a noun. For example, 'decide' becomes 'decision.' Persistent nominalization saps writing of its energy, but can be difficult for students to understand and diagnose on their own.

Williams also discusses the importance of keeping characters consistent in a paragraph. This discussion helps students understand the link between writing and attention. It also helps students understand when the use of the passive voice is appropriate and when it is distracting.

I admire Williams's focus on logic and problem solving when talking about writing. Writing, particularly at the level of a school essay, can be graded as rigorously and objectively as a mathematical problem set. Unfortunately, few teachers have the time or energy to articulate what skills they want students to demonstrate in their essays. I appreciate Williams's attempt to identify the skills and features that are often the hallmark of clear writing. ( )
2 vote marikolee | Jul 9, 2010 |
The best book ever written on how to write clearly and elegantly. Makes Strunk and White look like a kindergarten text, but be sure to get the 1st edition. He ruined it with his second and third editions for some reason known only to himself (and he's no longer alive) ( )
  echaika | Sep 30, 2009 |
This style of writing should be taught anywhere and everywhere. Some may struggle to grasp the power of this form because they have been instructed in a more traditional style that has a tendency to fail incensantly at getting to the point. Williams eliminates that tendency and in doing so esentially says that what we are writing is more important that how we are writing it. Think Hemingway: simple prose. ( )
  semiller | Sep 13, 2007 |
A very technical book on writing. I loved the first 8 lessons, the last two were complicated. The model of a sentence that he builds up in the first 7 lessons is great and I'll probably make a small diagram of it to post next to my desk. It also includes many great lessons at the end of each chapter. I am now armed with enough information to improve my writing. Wish me luck. ( )
  jcopenha | Jan 22, 2007 |
One of the worst "manuals of style" I've ever encountered. Clarity and grace? This man absolutely butchers some of his examples. Also poorly organized and indexed. ( )
  foxglove | Feb 8, 2006 |
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...English style, familiar but not coarse, elegant, but not ostentatious....
--Samuel Johnson
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To my mother and father
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This book builds on two principles: It's good to write clearly, and anyone can.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0321095170, Paperback)

The best-selling style book, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, Seventh Edition , presents principles of writing to help students diagnose their prose quickly and revise it effectively. The four sections-Style as Choice, Clarity, Grace, and Ethics-feature new principles of effective prose, chapter summaries for quick and easy review, and group exercises that encourage students to work and learn together. Williams offers these principles as reason-based approaches to improving prose, rather than hard and fast rules to writing well. Style, 7/e, empowers students to use their writing not only as a tool to identify and solve problems, but also as a method for exploring their own thinking.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:38 -0400)

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