My Old Friends, Strunk and White

Waiting for the Keurig to squeeze out my fifth cup of coffee yesterday, my eyes wandered to the stack of books next to the powdered creamer. My heart fluttered a little when I saw there, perched on top, a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. (I realize, of course, that only super-nerds like me get emotional over a book about writing, but seriously, this book is worth it.)

Strunk and White taught me how to write, to really write, and writing is the intellect’s most powerful tool — great ideas are useless if you can’t articulate them effectively.

Back when I was an undergrad at the University of Denver, there were no “First Year Composition” courses such as the English 103/104 sequence here at Northern. Instead, we had English 101, a survey of the great works of literature. We read the classics and, with the help of Strunk and White, we learned how to write our analyses clearly, concisely, and effectively.

Every week, we read a section of the little book, its rules that seemed so simple and obvious, and created our own sentences to illustrate the lesson. At the time, I despised this exercise. I considered it simplistic, boring, worthless busywork akin to elementary school grammar sheets. But what I didn’t realize is that the book’s simplicity, its clear explanation of otherwise confusing rules, is what makes it so effective. I absorbed every last rule without even realizing it.

After re-reading my old friend yesterday and seeing again its significant influence on my own writing, I’ve decided to share the experience with you. My next several posts will highlight rules explained by Strunk and White. I hope you will take the time to read them and create a few sentences of your own.

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