The Elements of Style

The Elements of Style refers to guidelines about how to avoid error and write with clarity. Since the publication of William Strunk's The Elements of Style in 1918, writers have been encouraged to follow the conventions of Standard Written English and to practice brevity, flow, simplicity and unity when communicating with others. Writers must also consider the inclusiveness and usability of their compositions. Since writing has taken a visual turn, as writers use multimedia tools to expand the writing space, writers must also consider use of design elements, graphic design, page design, and universal design principles.
One sign on Golden Gate Bridge says "Bike Route" while the sign under it says "No Bicycles."

Photo Credit: Moxley

One sign on Golden Gate Bridge says "Bike Route" while the sign under it says "No Bicycles."

What are The Elements of Style?

The Elements of Style refers to

  1. a distinctive quality of discourse a writer employs in a composition and the appropriateness of those elements given the rhetorical situation. Examples of stylistic elements include
    • Brevity, Clarity, Flow, Inclusiveness, Simplicity, and Unity
    • the use of visual or alphabetical language
    • semantic patterns (such as the use of deductive reasoning and a direct writing style),
    • conventions, such as how to use correct punctuation or the use of grammatical parallelism
    • rhetorical moves, such as the knowledge worker’s choice of that characterize and distinguish a writer’s prose style
  2. a critical framework, a set of discourse conventions and practices, that informs the composing practices and the interpretative practices of knowledge workers and discourse communities
  3. the title of a popular book on grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and style authored initially by William Strunk: The Elements of Style (1918).

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


Elements of Style Book

In 1918, when William Strunk’s first self published The Elements of Style, he aimed to concisely summarize the basic rules and conventions writers needed to follow in their prose style in order to write well. Strunk prized simplicity and clarity. He 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:

Contents, The Elements of Style (Strunk 1918)

Elements of Style PDF

Elements of Style in Contemporary Writing

Brevity, Clarity, Flow, Simplicity, Unity–these elements of style remain critical for writers to consider when drafting, composing, writing, revising or editing their works.

And yet a lot of things have changed in the past century. Consider, as an example, recent changes to pronoun usage:

Or the societal move toward information empathy and audience awareness:

The internet and modern communication technologies create new opportunities for writers. The writing space is now more visual and multimodal. Especially in professional writing contexts, writers, speakers, knowledge workers are expected to break up long chunks of alphabetical discourse by using shorter paragraphs, less punctuation, headings, bullets, lists, data visualizations, and infographics. In some situations, they may integrate videos and audio files into their emails, letters, memos, and other texts.

As a result, the elements of style may now include tools from the artist’s toolset. Thus they may need declarative knowledge about

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.