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Style: Toward Clarity and Grace (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) [Paperback]

by Joseph M. Williams
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)


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Book Description

June 15, 1995 0226899152 978-0226899152 1
This acclaimed book is a master teacher's tested program for turning clumsy prose into clear, powerful, and effective writing. A logical, expert, easy-to-use plan for achieving excellence in expression, Style offers neither simplistic rules nor endless lists of dos and don'ts. Rather, Joseph Williams explains how to be concise, how to be focused, how to be organized. Filled with realistic examples of good, bad, and better writing, and step-by-step strategies for crafting a sentence or organizing a paragraph, Style does much more than teach mechanics: it helps anyone who must write clearly and persuasively transform even the roughest of drafts into a polished work of clarity, coherence, impact, and personality.

"Buy Williams's book. And dig out from storage your dog-eared old copy of The Elements of Style. Set them side by side on your reference shelf."--Barbara Walraff, Atlantic

"Let newcoming writers discover this, and let their teachers and readers rejoice. It is a practical, disciplined text that is also a pleasure to read."--Christian Century

"An excellent book....It provides a sensible, well-balanced approach, featuring prescriptions that work."--Donald Karzenski, Journal of Business Communication

"Intensive fitness training for the expressive mind."--Booklist

A textbook edition with exercises, Style is available from Longman.



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.

Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing
  • Paperback: 226 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (June 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226899152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226899152
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
119 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book on Writing English... 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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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You're Better Off if You Buy - Ten Lessons 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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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book my students have learned the most from. January 21, 2001
By Grumpy
Format:Paperback
I'm an economics professor who started teaching writing courses as a spare time activity when I discovered that our English faculty was doing such a poor job of it.
My writing class is directed at college undergrads and grad students. I tried a number of books, but settled on Williams and have been using it since the 2nd edition. I find that students can make an enormous improvement in their writing in just ten weeks.
If your goal is to learn the kind of writing that will help you explain a process, change someone's mind, or write the winning proposal, Williams is your man. Don't read it all in one session, and you must actually do the exercises.
Try a chapter a week. It works.
Charles Lave, University of California, Irvine
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful, systematic treatise on writing well 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insights into the cognitive processes of reading October 25, 2001
By A Customer
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly interesting
I won't say that I have given it a thorough read just yet, but I have read enough to be able to say that this is a VERY interesting read. Read more
Published 2 months ago by solaman huq
4.0 out of 5 stars You need this book, or...
If you want to write clearly, and concisely, you need this book, or one of its updated versions. I could say more, but I don't need to (which is one of the things Style teaches... Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. Bookout
5.0 out of 5 stars Replaces Strunk and White on my reference bookshelf
This is a guide to tight precise expressive writing for writers at all levels. The best I know of today.
Published 6 months ago by K. C. King
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect book
My advisor recommended this book. Great book for style. Very cheap, very portable. I plan to read it before sleeping.
Published 10 months ago by Snooqy
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful Guide to Writing
This is the most useful guide to writing English I have ever read. It has advice like: put old information first, then follow it up with new information. Read more
Published on June 14, 2010 by Agent Tao
1.0 out of 5 stars Instead of buying this
I think a faster way to get the most important lessons from this book is to go straight to the source--that is, (download or buy) then read George Orwell's essay "Politics and the... Read more
Published on August 11, 2009 by Adam J. Braus
5.0 out of 5 stars Just what I was looking for to improve my writing
I want my writing to be clear, cohesive, coherent, concise and elegant. This book is showing me how.
Published on January 9, 2009 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful
Although a little hard to read at first, it definitely gets to the point about good writing. A great read for those who need help writing!
Published on November 7, 2008 by Judith L. Hoyt
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Have for Academic Writers
For students, scholars, or everyday writers, this is a must-have book. This is a great book for learning how to hone your writing skills to get thoughts on the paper in a way that... Read more
Published on April 26, 2008 by Jeff DeSurra
4.0 out of 5 stars An important book for professional writers and academia
This book covers not the basic grammar issue, but how to make your passage / paragraph / and in general writing flow. Read more
Published on September 3, 2007 by AleFu
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