The Elements of Style – The DNA of Powerful Writing

Just as DNA constitutes the building blocks of life, The Elements of Style form the foundation for powerful writing. Brevity, coherence, flow, inclusivity, simplicity, and unity — these stylistic elements empower writers to enhance the clarity and power of their work. Esteemed by educators, editors, and professional writers, these elements serve as the essential building blocks — indeed, the DNA — of clear, compelling communication.

Just as DNA constitutes the building blocks of life -- as illustrated in this depiction of ions and DNA gliding through a single-walled carbon nanotube -- the 'Elements of Style' form the foundation for powerful writing. Brevity, coherence, flow, inclusivity, simplicity, unity — these stylistic elements empower writers to enhance the clarity and strength of their work. Esteemed by educators, editors, and professional writers, they serve as the essential building blocks — indeed, the DNA — of clear, compelling communication. Photo Credit: "Ions and DNA flowing through a carbon nanotube" by oakridgelabnews is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

What are The Elements of Style?

The “Elements of Style” refer to a cluster of linguistic and rhetorical conventions (also known as discourse conventions). For example, teachers and editors may refer to any of the following intellectual strategies as “the elements of style”:

Despite the broad range of stylistic elements, certain elements of style play a commanding role in determining the clarity and impact of a text. The most influential among these — brevity, coherence, flow, inclusivity, simplicity, and unity — go beyond shaping the text’s structure and language. They guide how readers engage with and interpret the content, directly shaping a text’s success in achieving its objectives. By understanding and applying these conventions, writers and readers enhance their communication skills within their discourse community.

As a set of discourse conventions, The Elements of Style serve as a shared language and common ground between the writer and the reader. They underpin the writer’s creative and strategic decisions during the writing process and guide the reader’s engagement, interpretation, and evaluation of the text. Thus, these elements are not just about the act of writing, but about the broader interaction between the writer, the text, and the reader within the context of established discourse conventions.


The “Elements of Style,” as a term, is often associated with the famous writing guide by Strunk and White, as discussed below. However, in a broader context, the “Elements of Style,” refers to the different components that make up the way we write and communicate in written form. Synonymous or related terms to the “Elements of Style” could include:

  • Writing Principles
  • Stylistic Devices
  • Rhetorical Techniques
  • Literary Elements
  • Writing Strategies
  • Composition Techniques
  • Linguistic Features
  • Literary Devices
  • Writing Mechanics
  • Style
  • Style Techniques
  • Writing Style

These terms, while not exact synonyms, refer to overlapping concepts and tools used in the creation and evaluation of written works. Remember, the “Elements of Style” is not a fixed list; it can vary based on context, genre, and personal or cultural writing conventions.

Related Concepts: Ableist Language; Grammar; RegisterRhetorical AnalysisRhetoricRhetorical Reasoning StyleToneVoice.

The Elements of Style in 1918

William Strunk’s first self published The Elements of Style in 1918 to concisely summarize the basic rules and conventions writers needed to follow in order to write with clarity, impact, and authority.

Strunk conceptualized the elements of style to be composed of a few elementary rules of usage and composition, a few matters of form, and some misspelled words and misused expressions:

Guide to The Elements of Style, 2023

Since Strunk first described the elements of style  in 1918, The Elements of Style have evolved significantly, adapting to societal and technological shifts. The digital revolution has expanded the platforms for communication and redefined the norms of interaction, necessitating an evolution in stylistic conventions. As a result, some stylistic elements have assumed heightened significance, while others have emerged to join the traditional canon.

Among these, six core elements of style stand out in 2023: brevity, coherence, flow, inclusivity, simplicity, and unity

Brevity and clarity are more crucial than ever in our fast-paced, information-saturated world. Coherence and flow ensure our messages are cohesive and engaging, fostering understanding and retaining the attention of our diverse audiences.

Inclusivity acknowledges and respects the rich diversity of our global community, and design has emerged as a powerful tool of visual communication, adding another dimension to our expressiveness.

  1. Brevity:
    • In a digital ecosystem saturated with information, brevity’s power — using the minimum words necessary to communicate effectively — becomes increasingly significant
  2. Coherence:
    • Ensuring that all parts of a text logically connect and contribute to the overall message is an enduring requirement for effective writing.
  3. Design:
    • Emerging as a new element in our list, design’s role in communication has grown in tandem with the rise of visual language and digital interfaces.
  4. Flow:
    • A smooth progression of ideas, facilitated by thoughtful sentence structure and transitions, remains crucial to engage readers and make our writing accessible.
  5. Inclusivity:
    • Reflecting societal change, inclusivity in language use, particularly in the use of pronouns, has become a new and necessary consideration in our writing.
  6. Simplicity:
    • As we tackle increasingly complex topics, striking a balance between depth of discussion and simplicity of presentation remains a prized attribute.
  7. Unity:


Why do the Elements of Style Matter?

  1. Enhance Readability:
    • By following stylistic conventions such as brevity, clarity, and coherence, you can make your work easier to read and understand.
  2. Improve Comprehensibility:
  3. Create Persuasive Arguments:
  4. Increase Engagement:
    • By using stylistic elements that enhance the flow and rhythm of the text, you can make your work more engaging and hold the audience’s interest.
  5. Fostering Inclusivity:
  6. Guiding Feedback and Critique:
    • For editors, teachers, and other critical readers, the Elements of Style provide a framework for evaluating a text and providing constructive feedback.

Which Elements of Style are most important in academic and professional writing contexts?

Brevity is key—especially in today’s fast-paced world where readers value concise yet complete information. Clarity ensures your arguments are easy to follow and comprehend, preventing misinterpretation. Coherence guarantees that your points connect logically, making your argument or narrative more persuasive.

Flow enables a seamless transition from one idea to another, enhancing your readers’ engagement and understanding. Inclusivity is vital in the increasingly diverse academic and professional landscape, ensuring respect for all readers. Simplicity allows your work to be accessible to a wider audience, and unity provides consistency, strengthening your voice throughout the text.

While all these elements are essential, the ‘most important’ among them can vary depending on your writing task. A complex research paper might need more emphasis on clarity and cohesion, while a brief professional email might prioritize brevity and simplicity. Always consider your audience, your purpose, and your context when deciding which elements to focus on in your writing.

How do audiences — such as editors, clients, or teachers — use the elements of style as an interpretive framework?

In academic and professional writing contexts, the elements of style function as a shared language, a shared set of textual expectations, that both writers and readers hold when engaged in acts of communication. Thus, The Elements of Style not only shape the creation of the text, but also how it is received, interpreted, and evaluated, reinforcing their importance in the broader discourse community.

Recommended Resources

Elements of Style PDF

Works Cited

Strunk, W. (1918). The elements of style. OCLC 781988921

Strunk, W., In White, E. B., White, E. B., & White, E. B. (1957). The elements of style (3rd edition). New York: Macmillan. OCLC 878906498.

Williams, Joseph and Joseph Bizup (2016). Style: lessons in clarity and grace, 12th Edition. Pearson Education. ISBN-13: 978-0134080413

Zinsser, W. (2006). On writing well (30th ed.). HarperCollins.