- 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: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 46 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Style: Toward Clarity and Grace (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)
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"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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Williams attempts to transform the content of the book from its root as a college textbook so that it may function for a broader demographic. This book guides the reader through most of the subject matter with great clarity, providing grammatical devices and diagnosing a myriad of examples of good and bad writing. However, the book is not without obstacles for readers who are still trying to grasp the protocols of grammar. The primary area where this book falls short is the lack of development or elaboration of some the technical rules and terminology. Even with these challenges, there are more than enough redeeming factors that make the book a resourceful companion on your path to becoming a better writer.
Williams delivers his principles of Style in ten concise chapters. Each chapter focuses on its respective element: Causes, Clarity, Cohesion, Emphasis, Coherence I, Coherence II, Concision, Length, Elegance, and Usage. The first chapter serves as a brief history lesson of the English language and how that history affected our literature. He does a great job providing examples of “good” and “bad” writing and, more importantly, elaborates on why people might characterize this writing as such. This approach of diagnosing writing examples is repeated as one of Williams’ tools for teaching throughout the chapters. He makes a valiant effort in integrating these elements into a coherent writing system.
Chapters 2 and 3 offered techniques and approaches to identifying and correcting bloated, abstract and incoherent writing. I found these methods to be extremely useful and was able to immediately apply them in my writing. For instance, a simple but effective way to produce a clear sentence is to have the subject of the sentence near the beginning of your sentence and its action verb close by. Even with these great takeaways, I have mixed feelings about these two chapters because I had to reread, Google and consult a tutor to understand some of the technical terminology used to explain some of these concepts. For example, the way Williams delivers concepts like “psychological subjects” and “grammatical subjects” was very confusing. There appeared to be an assumption that the reader understood grammatical subjects. Williams then started to use topic strings to characterize both psychological and grammatical subjects without proper transition. For advanced writers, these issues are trivial and might even be considered concise writing. However, non-native writers need new terminology to be clearly delineated and clearly defined. These issues notwithstanding, the two chapters provide many useful guidelines and reinforce those guidelines with matrix diagrams and summaries of key points at the end of the chapters. In aggregate, these tools will teach you how to identify and correct vague and incoherent writing. Therefore, whatever additional efforts are needed to comprehend the technical jargon in these two chapters, the return is well worth the effort.
While the last two chapters teach the fundamental elements of constructing a sentence and conjoining them into a cohesive paragraph, Chapter 4 teaches you where to place key information in your writing. For example, by placing new and important information towards the end of a sentence you naturally signal that information as your stress points. Additionally, Williams ties in all the elements from previous chapters into one complete system illustrated with the matrix table. However, if you were casually reading and not taking notes, expecting a summary at the end of the chapter, you would be disappointed because it’s not there! The synopsis at the end the previous chapters does (do) such a great job reinforcing pertinent concepts, which makes it perplexing why Williams discontinues its use.
If the early chapters provided concepts and guidelines to write grammatically correct sentences and paragraphs, Coherence I and Coherence II provide the tools to diagnose your writing. Williams prefaces in the opening paragraph that he’ll be introducing new jargon to teach the principles of coherence. However, he does a poor job defining, developing and placing these new concepts. Similar to the problems in chapters 2 & 3, Williams introduces vocabulary like “topic and thematic strings” without clearly defining each concept and how they are used together to establish a cohesive prose. This ambiguity left me unsure of the difference between these two concepts. With topic stings, Williams only provides one example instead of his customary breakdown of multiple writing examples to make sure the subject is fully explained. Interestingly enough, Williams espouses the importance of proper development and placement of new technical terms and concepts in previous chapters. In a way, it’s refreshing to know that even advanced writers can be off their game sometimes.
Now, if you have a problem, like I do, with rambling on and being redundant, Concision will be an extremely impactful chapter for you. This chapter will provide you with the tools to diagnose your writing so that each word earns its place. Chapter 8 on Length simplified the various devices that are used to extend a sentence. Devices such as Resumptive, Summative and Free modifiers are just a few of the subjects this chapter will teach to inject sophistication into your writing. I have used some of these tools in my writing before, but now I understand the rules behind them. Understanding the various usage rules, I use these devices with confidence to produce long and complex sentences.
The guidance in the last two chapters may be too subjective and anecdotal to be valuable for ESL readers. Just like the rest of the book, there is a myriad of great examples and he breaks down the information gracefully. However, for a non-native speaker there needs to be consistency in what is proper and improper use, not subjectivity. For example, Williams notes a rule that you should not begin a sentence with coordinating conjunctions but goes on to provide writings where it’s acceptable in certain circumstances. Additionally, Williams repeats the theme of using your intuition and discretion when it comes to breaking grammatical rules to produce writing that suits your purpose. While this may sound reasonable, this subjectivity for the novice writer can be very confusing. Beginning writers want facts and rules they can adhere to. Imagine if you’re just learning basic arithmetic to then suddenly be told to use those principles to work out the solution for a linear algebra equation. I bet you would get many blank stares. The same applies here.
Overall, Mr. Williams delivers on his main objective for this book, which is to clearly explain how writers can improve their style and flow. Additionally, he provides the tools for writers to navigate through the web of English rules, so they can communicate effectively in their own style. However, don’t expect this book to be a panacea for all your struggles with writing. No single book, class or resource will accomplish that feat. Only continuous practice and the iterative process of writing will ease the hopelessness of producing a prose you can live with.
The best part of the book is the connection that Williams makes between thinking and writing. Bad writing often masks incomplete thinking, so this book is also a guide indirectly of how to read more effectively and deeply. For any student who wants to take their writing to the next level and beyond the strong Strunk and White foundational grammar, this is a book for you.
Historic lessons on the development of the English language are intriguing, and the examples given are very insightful about how to develop comprehensible prose; even at the beginning, the stark contrast of clarity between examples of well and "poorly" written prose will leave you surprised.