Writing with Style

As an English major, I have a thing for style guides. A style guide "offers a set of standards for writing and the design of documents".

For most of my life, I've been at the mercy of the MLA, whose style manual governed the hundreds of pages of literary analysis my academic career produced.

Like Randy Murray, I'm also a fan of William Strunk's famous volume, The Elements of Style, principally for this well-known passage:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

The New York Times even has its own style guide, officially titled, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World's Most Authoritative Newspaper.

Some style guides focus on graphic design, such as Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style.

Most recently, I've gotten to know The Chicago Manual of Style, currently in its 16th edition (since 1906) and deemed "one of the most widely used and respected style guides in the United States". The Chicago Manual is available online, so I signed up for a free thirty-day trial and proceeded to lose several hours reading about commas, adverbs, numbers, parallel structure, and more. All in rendered in lovely Tisa with pretty-in-pink links.

I suppose an obsession with style guides is the pinnacle of English major nerdery, but I can't help it. Style guides emphasize one of my biggest values: an attention to detail. They exude a sense of professionalism and craftsmanship. Anyone can string some words together and make a sentence, but it takes a knowledge of style and standards — among other things — to turn writing into an art form.

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