As I write this, I cautiously check each phrase to ensure that it cannot be shortened. I double-check my P’s (periods) and Q’s (question marks) to be sure they are properly placed so I don’t write badly.
I look over my shoulder to see if the ghosts of William Strunk and E.B. White are watching as I type, eager to interrupt and correct my grammar. I think back to my college years when their Elements of Style was required reading in my beginning journalism class.
Blame the Web
Today, those of us who blog, tweet, and text can learn from their admonitions: use the active voice; omit needless words; put statements in positive form; use definite, specific, concrete language, and so forth. Ah, if only.
Social media networks give us license to write badly. I believe Messrs. Strunk and White would be horrified at the decimation of language. What would they think of these tweets:
Somebody is “milk drunk” HA! super content!!”
RT RepRefinery “Red Lobster misses the boat with Beyoncé’s #Formation shout-out via visibrainEN
This is Fiesta Day 1 for us and we are toast!
Don’t Be Passive
Strunk and White urge writers to use the active tense. I was inspired to revisit this post, which I had published several years ago, when I received the recent issue of a community newsletter. The President’s letter is written almost entirely in the passive tense:
Bad: “The much needed plantings of our our tree beds were completed and residents were proud to have such lush flowers in the neighborhood, as compliments indicated.”
Better: “We completed the much needed plantings of our tree beds. Residents are enjoying the lush flowers brightening our neighborhood. The Board is pleased that so many of them called and wrote to compliment this community effort.”
From Strunk and White:
Bad: ”He was not often on time.” Better: “He usually came late.”
Use Specific Language
According to The Elements of Style: “…the surest way to arouse and hold the reader’s attention is by being specific, definite, and concrete.”
Bad: “A period of unfavorable weather set it.” Good: “It rained every day for a week.” That specific, active phrase conveys that the writer wasn’t very happy about it.
For over a half-century, this powerful little book has been guiding writers (bad, passive phrase). I urge everyone who values simple writing to read and learn from it.
Visit Amazon to buy the book or visit your local bookstore. It may be the best $5.00 you ever spent.