- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Pearson; 10 edition (January 14, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0205747469
- ISBN-13: 978-0205747467
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 47 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (10th Edition) 10th Edition
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Reviewed by C.J.Singh
Even a brief browsing of Joseph Williams's STYLE: LESSONS IN CLARITY AND GRACE, would persuade most readers that it makes the much touted Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" look, well, elementary. Simplistic. If the seductively slender "Elements" -- easily read in a day, no exercises to do -- could deliver its claim, by the end of the day there'd be millions of excellent writers. Besides, Williams shows how Strunk & White flout their own advice to "omit unnecessary words": he edits their 199-word paragraph to just 51 words (Williams, pp. 126-28). Williams shows grace in conceding that "in boiling down that original paragraph to a quarter of its original length, I've bleached out its garrulous charm."
In the preface, Williams urges the reader to "go slowly" as it's "not an amiable essay to read in a sitting or two.... Do the exercises, edit someone else's writing, then some of your own written a few weeks ago, then something you wrote that day."
I often assigned STYLE as the main textbook in Advanced Editorial Workshop, a ten-week course, I taught at the University of California. Each term, students rated the book as excellent. (The prerequisite to the workshop was a review course, with the main textbook "The Harbrace College Handbook." Although STYLE includes a 32-page appendix summarizing grammar and punctuation rules, most readers would be well-advised to review a standard college handbook, such as the Harbrace or Bedford. See my review of Bedford, seventh edition on Amazon.)
Amazon has published numerous reviews of STYLE's various editions. The one-star reviews criticize the author's own writing in the book as lacking grace. Let's not forget that this is a text- and work-book -- so occasional pedagogic tone is to be expected. On the whole, the author's voice sounds earnest, refreshingly honest: Commenting on what's new in the recent edition: "Finally, I've also done a lot of line editing. After twenty-five years of revising this book, you'd think by this time I'd have it right, but there always seem to be sentences that make me slap my forehead, wondering how I could have written them."
His expository style is clear. Two examples: Introducing the concepts of cohesion and coherence, Williams writes, "We judge sequences of sentences to be cohesive depending on how each sentence ends and the next begins. We judge a whole passage to be coherent depending on how all the sentences in a passage cumulatively begin. . . . It's easy to confuse the words cohesion and coherence because they sound alike. Think of cohesion as pairs of sentences fitting together the way two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle do. Think of coherence as seeing what all the sentences in a piece of writing add up to, the way all the pieces in a puzzle add up to the picture on the box."
"You can write a long sentence but still avoid sprawl if you change relative clauses to one of three kinds of appositives, resumptive, summative, or free. You have probably never heard of these terms before, but they name stylistic devices you have read many times and so should know how to use.
To create a resumptive modifier, find a key noun just before the tacked-on clause, then pause after it with a comma . . . . Then repeat the noun ... and that repeated word add a relative clause beginning with `that': 'Since mature writers often use restrictive modifers to extend a line of thought, we need a word to name what I am about to do in this sentence, a sentence that I could have ended at that comma, but extended to show you how resumptive modifiers work.'"
"To create a summative modifier, end a grammatically complete segment of a sentence with a comma . . . . Find a term that sums up the substance of the sentence so far . . . . Then continue with a relative clause beginning with `that': 'Economic changes have reduced Russian population growth to less than zero, a demographic event that will have serious social implications.'" And, free modifiers: "Like the other modifiers, a free modifier can appear at the end of a clause, but instead of repeating a key word or summing up what went before, it comments on the subject of the closest verb.
"'Free modifiers resemble resumptive and summative modifiers, letting you (i.e., the free modifier lets you) extend the line of a sentence while avoiding a train of ungainly phrases and clauses.'" In the preceding sentence, Williams simultaneously explains and exemplifies the concept of free modifiers.
In the chapter titled "Elegance," Williams points out that "the device that often appears in elegant prose" is the use of resumptive and summative modifiers. An example from Joyce Carol Oates, using two resumptive modifiers: "Far from being locked inside our own skins, inside the `dungeons' of ourselves . . . our minds belong . . . to a collective `mind,' a mind in which we share . . . the inner and outer experience of existence."
In the final chapter, "The Ethics of Style," Williams takes on academics who "rationalize opacity," with a ". . . claim that their prose style must be difficult because their ideas are new, they are, as a matter of simple fact, more often wrong than right. . . . Whatever can be written can usually be written more clearly, with just a little more effort."
Well-crafted writing emerges only from repeated rewriting. This five-star text- and workbook teaches the exacting--and joyously rewarding--craft of rewriting. Moreover, I wholly agree with the author's observation on writing clearly and cognitive psychology: "The more clearly we write, the more clearly we see and feel and think."
-- C J Singh
All academics should read this so the world can benefit from more clarity in how ideas are expressed!
I had always thought good writing was both art and science. This book does not cover the art of writing, but instead it covers the science, giving you a formulaic approach to diagnose and correct your writing.