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am 27. November 1999
Most books on how to write better English are pretty near to useless. Many of them scare you into worrying that you might use "which" when you should use "that" (never mind that an extra "which" never caused any reader the smallest bit of confusion). Others demand that you strive for "clarity" or "brevity" or "coherence"--but then somehow never provide any useful advice on just how, exactly, to do so.
Joseph Williams's Style: Toward Clarity and Grace is an exception. It is the only truly useful book on English prose style that I have ever found. Even Strunk and White cannot compete with the quality of the advice that Williams gives. Perhaps more important, the advice that Williams gives can be used. As Williams puts it, his aim is to go "beyond platitudes." Advice like "'Be clear' is like telling me to 'Hit the ball squarely.' I know that. What I don't know is how to do it." Williams tells us how to do it.
Williams's advice is particularly useful because it is reader based. Most books on style are rule-based: follow these rules and you will be a good writer. Williams recognizes that clear writing is writing that makes the reader feel clear about what he or she is reading. This difference in orientation makes Williams's advice much more profound: he has a theory of why the rules are what they are (and what to do when the rules conflict) that books that focus on rules alone lack.
His advice starts at the level of the sentence. Williams believes that readers find sentences easy to read and understand when the logic of the thought follows the logic of the sentence: the subjects of sentences should be the actors, and the verbs of the sentence should be the crucial actions. The beginning of a sentence should look back and connect the reader with the ideas that have been mentioned before. The end of the sentence should look forward, and is the place to put new ideas and new information.
His advice continues at the level of the paragraph. The sentences that make up a paragraph should have consistent topics. New topics and new themes should be found at the end of a paragraph's introductory sentence (or sentences). Readers will find a paragraph to be coherent if it has one single articulate summary sentence, which is almost always found either at the end of the paragraph or as the last of the paragraph's introductory sentences.
His advice concludes with four chapters on being concise, on figuring out the appropriate length, on being elegant, and on using constructions that do not jar the reader. I think that these last four chapters are less successful than the other chapters of the book. They contain much sound advice. But the argument of the book becomes more diffuse. The first six chapters present and illustrate overarching organizing principles for achieving clarity, coherence, and cohesion. The last four chapters present long lists of things to try to do. (However, the fangs-bared attack on "pop grammarians" found in the last chapter is fun to read.)
So, gentle reader, if you want to become a better writer of English, go buy and work through this book. I, at least, have never found a better.
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am 8. Juni 1999
Go to any bookstore (cyber or otherwise) - see writing books arrayed row upon row. Now, take down a copy of "Style" by Joseph Williams, and leave Zinsser and Strunk & White collecting dust on the shelf, because William's is the only one you'll ever need. Williams describes the actual writing process better than anyone, and presents a method which an aspiring writer may employ to accomplish his or her writing goals - whatever they are! And he does it without recourse to the usual grammatical rules and "mechanics of writing" approach. That approach [resumptive modifier!] never helped anyone become a better writer - and it sure discouraged a lot of us!
Make no mistake! This is not beach reading, as Williams himself would tell you. Williams develops an entire system of writing over the course of the book, adding to it chapter by chapter. If you're not used to sustained intellectual effort, or if you have a short attention span, this book will definitely be a stretch. It requires prolonged concentration. But if you put forth the effort, it will be rewarded! I've read this book through at least eight times cover to cover, and while I'm not a great writer, I've improved immeasurably.
My compliments to Professor Williams - a great book!
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am 9. Mai 1998
Joseph Williams' book, "Style: Toward Clarity and Grace" is the best book on writing I have ever read, by far. Williams himself describes the emphasis of the book on page one: "Telling me to 'Be clear' is like telling me to 'Hit the ball squarely.' I know that. What I don't know is how to do it." But Williams does know how to write well, and his explanations are precise and concrete.
This book takes a sort of linguistic, almost scientific approach to improving your writing style. I first learned of Williams' work in "The Language Instinct," by the Stephen Pinker, the acclaimed professor of linguistics from MIT.
Unlike every other writing book, this one is more than a laundry list of grammatical shoulds and shouldn'ts. This book is about HOW-- how to write to suit the human brain's innate method of processing information.
I am a professional writer, and I have a whole book case filled with grammar books. But this book is worth more than all the others combined. If you're a writer, this is the book you've been looking for.
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am 26. November 1998
For people who are serious about improving their writing skills, this is an excellent how-to book. Prof. Williams does not dispense facile advice ("use the active voice") or mindless rules of usage and grammar ("don't split infinitives"). Instead, he teaches you, step by step, how to construct sentences and paragraphs that are clear, concise, coherent, even elegant. He explains in great detail the principles and techniques involved in achieving clarity, grace, and other attributes of good writing. And he illustrates these principles and techniques with many specific, telling examples. "Style" is not a quick read, but it is definitely worth the effort.
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am 10. September 1999
This is a wonderful and to my mind sophisticated book, well written, short and forceful, easy to read but rich and challenging to fully absorb - something to keep handy and refer to occasionally. In fact, it is a pleasure to read such good writing. I write and consult for a living, and writing with impact is important. "Clarity and grace" are the right words - if the title were designed by a Silicon Valley PR firm the words would have been "Force and Impact." Same difference, except that clarity and grace are also good for writing to your grandmother, not just for winning battles bla bla bla... Buy the book.
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am 19. August 1998
The best book on improving your writing that I've ever read. Its strength is that it offers clear, explicit advice on how to improve your writing. I've found it even more helpful than Strunk & White's _The Elements of Style_, although it too is a fine work. If you've already read _Style_, other good books on writing include _The Elements of Style_, mentioned above, and _Line by Line_ by Claire Kehrwald Cook.
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am 29. Dezember 1999
I found this an extremely helpful book, but definitely not for the beginning writer. Williams meticulously guides you through the vagaries of the English language, and shows you how to solve various problems with your writing (although solving one problem often creates another). Williams is very good at pinpointing what exactly doesn't work about certain writing. He is also very good at demonstrating how writing is ultimately too vast, elusive, and personal a subject to ever be easily codified. This last element of the book, while correct, is not for the novice writer, who is apt to give up, feeling it's all relative in the end. But for those of us who have to write a lot and don't always find it easy, this book is invaluable.
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am 2. Mai 1999
By itself, this book is helpful. But its not nearly as helpful as Williams other book "Style - Ten Lessons Towards Clarity & Grace," which is also available through This version of Style simply presents Williams' theories about writing, but it does not provide the reader with the "workbook" drills that are contained in "Ten Lessons." A reader will only understand the value of Williams' techniques after he's had a chance to apply them. I recommend this book without reservation, but believe that most readers will benefit more from the "Ten Lessons" version.
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