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Style: Toward Clarity and Grace (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) Paperback – June 15, 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0226899152 ISBN-10: 0226899152

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Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing
  • Paperback: 226 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (June 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226899152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226899152
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Telling me to 'Be clear,' " writes Joseph M. Williams in Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, "is like telling me to 'Hit the ball squarely.' I know that. What I don't know is how to do it." If you are ever going to know how to write clearly, it will be after reading Williams' book, which is a rigorous examination of--and lesson in--the elements of fine writing. With any luck, your clear writing will turn graceful, as well. Though most of us, says Williams, would be happy just to write "clear, coherent, and appropriately emphatic prose," he is not content to teach us just that. He also attempts, by way of example, to determine what constitutes elegant writing.

Despite the proliferation of books in this genre, rarely does one feel so confident in one's instructor. Williams is meticulous and exacting, yet never pedantic. Though he agrees with most of his grammarian colleagues that, generally speaking, the active voice is better than the passive or that the ordinary word is preferable to the fancy, Williams is also quick to assert that there's no sense learning a rule "if all we can do is obey it." And he is most emphatic about the absurdity of prescriptions concerning usage (such as, "Never begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction"). Such rules, he says, "are 'violated' so consistently that, unless we are ready to indict for bad grammar just about every serious writer of modern English, we have to reject as misinformed anyone who would attempt to enforce them." --Jane Steinberg

From Library Journal

There is certainly no shortage of handbooks on writing, many of them packed with theory, description, rules, and perhaps some examples of good writing. What most lack is directions for improving bad writing--precisely what is offered by Williams ( Origins of the English Language , LJ 8/75). He first explains what constitutes poor writing and then presents and illustrates principles that will help writers produce sentences, paragraphs, and documents that clearly and directly communicate meaning to readers. Williams focuses on achieving gracefulness without sacrificing clarity. His delineation of the needs and problems of reader and writer is enlightening and helpful. Style is evidence that the author's approach works; it embodies the principles of clarity and grace it espouses. Highly recommended.
- Craig W. Beard, Harding Univ. Lib., Searcy, Ark.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Anyone who is a good writer wanting to get even better needs this book.
Sandra Conn
This is a great book for learning how to hone your writing skills to get thoughts on the paper in a way that is still understandable to the reader.
Jeff DeSurra
The book ends by examining ways to increase elegance in your writing - a fitting finish to a systematic, rational approach to writing.
Craig Atencio

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

121 of 125 people found the following review helpful By James B. Delong on November 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
Most books on how to write better English are pretty near to useless. Many of them scare you into worrying that you might use "which" when you should use "that" (never mind that an extra "which" never caused any reader the smallest bit of confusion). Others demand that you strive for "clarity" or "brevity" or "coherence"--but then somehow never provide any useful advice on just how, exactly, to do so.
Joseph Williams's Style: Toward Clarity and Grace is an exception. It is the only truly useful book on English prose style that I have ever found. Even Strunk and White cannot compete with the quality of the advice that Williams gives. Perhaps more important, the advice that Williams gives can be used. As Williams puts it, his aim is to go "beyond platitudes." Advice like "'Be clear' is like telling me to 'Hit the ball squarely.' I know that. What I don't know is how to do it." Williams tells us how to do it.
Williams's advice is particularly useful because it is reader based. Most books on style are rule-based: follow these rules and you will be a good writer. Williams recognizes that clear writing is writing that makes the reader feel clear about what he or she is reading. This difference in orientation makes Williams's advice much more profound: he has a theory of why the rules are what they are (and what to do when the rules conflict) that books that focus on rules alone lack.
His advice starts at the level of the sentence. Williams believes that readers find sentences easy to read and understand when the logic of the thought follows the logic of the sentence: the subjects of sentences should be the actors, and the verbs of the sentence should be the crucial actions.
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66 of 69 people found the following review helpful By P. O'Rourke on May 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
By itself, this book is helpful. But its not nearly as helpful as Williams other book "Style - Ten Lessons Towards Clarity & Grace," which is also available through Amazon.com. This version of Style simply presents Williams' theories about writing, but it does not provide the reader with the "workbook" drills that are contained in "Ten Lessons." A reader will only understand the value of Williams' techniques after he's had a chance to apply them. I recommend this book without reservation, but believe that most readers will benefit more from the "Ten Lessons" version.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Craig Atencio on January 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is, by far, the best book on writing that I have ever read. I stumbled upon this book while taking a free writing seminar at Pepperdine University. I must say that I have never had such a wondrous, wholly unexpected discovery and experience as this. In the book Williams explains why writing may be clear, or unclear, and by relating narrative prose to composition. He states that when we can identify characters, i.e. people or things, with subjects, and actions with verbs, then we tend to think the writing is clear. He gives example upon example to buttress his point. Later he describes how to write coherent paragraphs and papers - not by concatenating one unrelated sentence to another but by making sure the topics of the sentences are related to each other, forming a cohesive unity. The book ends by examining ways to increase elegance in your writing - a fitting finish to a systematic, rational approach to writing. I must admit that another reason I enjoyed the book so much was that, being an engineer working in academia and doing research, I have read so many abstruse, incoherent papers that unless you are careful you begin to write in a similar manner. This book gives cogent, principled explanations about how to change these incoherent, murky writings into clear and concise papers. As I hope to have people read my works and not become frustrated this book was the perfect antidote.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you are like me, you have long known you had an aptitude for writing but been amazed at the range of your experiences as a writer. At times you've been told you write with amazing force and clarity, while at others you've been told your writing is verbose and even "chatty." Why the disparity?
You'll understand why when you read this book. More than any other work I've seen, this book provides insight into how the mind operates during reading and applies this insight to the process of writing. Williams makes explicit the many subtle and not so subtle patterns and principles that govern how the mind comprehends writing. If you've had the experience of writing well--and not so well--but not realized why, this book will help you by revealing the principles of clarity that you've been applying intuitively for years--and those you haven't. This is a demanding but very rewarding book that would be of enormous value not only to writers, but to editors and even casual readers who want to deepen their appreciation of what makes lucid writing what it is. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 8, 1998
Format: Paperback
Joseph Williams' book, "Style: Toward Clarity and Grace" is the best book on writing I have ever read, by far. Williams himself describes the emphasis of the book on page one: "Telling me to 'Be clear' is like telling me to 'Hit the ball squarely.' I know that. What I don't know is how to do it." But Williams does know how to write well, and his explanations are precise and concrete.
This book takes a sort of linguistic, almost scientific approach to improving your writing style. I first learned of Williams' work in "The Language Instinct," by the Stephen Pinker, the acclaimed professor of linguistics from MIT.
Unlike every other writing book, this one is more than a laundry list of grammatical shoulds and shouldn'ts. This book is about HOW-- how to write to suit the human brain's innate method of processing information.
I am a professional writer, and I have a whole book case filled with grammar books. But this book is worth more than all the others combined. If you're a writer, this is the book you've been looking for.
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