Fimbulvetr

Poppy

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Aishe & Evandr

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The Elements of Style

#1
This short book 'The Elements of Style' was recommended to me in a writing class I recently took, and I was really impressed by how helpful it was in my everyday writing! I wanted to share some of it with the FimFam since we do so much writing here, and hopefully some of you will find it helpful too. Our rping is primarily for fun, of course, but for anyone interested in improving or polishing their style, I think this is also a great place to do that!

I've summarized and paraphrased here what I found to be most relevant, and it is nowhere near complete (definitely read the book if you're interested). I also don't claim any credit for any of this! While I love writing and studying grammar, I struggle a lot with these things too and could never come up with the elegant guidelines that Strunk did. I'll insert some of my own inputs as well as any suggestions you guys come up with, but I want to make it clear that most of these examples are straight from the 'The Elements of Style'.

Moreover, all of these are suggestions - none of them are intended as set-in-stone rules! Writing is subjective, and anything that reads the way that you want it to is correct, end of story. Polishing your style is only meant to help you clearly communicate what YOU want to say, not make you conform to anyone else's idea of what's right or not.

I hope it's helpful and not too intimidating a wall of text... Don't feel the need to read it all in one go, haha. I've split it up into sections with the intent of letting it be here as a reference if needed, and maybe we can also make this thread a place to post questions and ask for constructive critiques & revisions!

Style

  • Create a clear, logical structure and flow.
    Each paragraph, whether several sentences or just one, should function to describe or illustrate one point, event, or idea. Paragraph breaks show a logical flow of thoughts or events and help prevent walls of text that look intimidating.

  • Use active voice.
    Exceptions can and should be made, but in general active voice sounds bolder, more direct, and more concise. (Is it active or passive voice? HINT: If you can add "by zombies" to the sentence, then it is passive voice! This is NOT an exhaustive method. "the man was bitten... by zombies" "it was given to him... by zombies")

    • Passive: "My first visit to this city will always be remembered by me."
      Active: "I will always remember my first visit to this city."
    • Passive: "The ground was covered by dead leaves."
      Active: "Dead leaves covered the ground."
    • Passive: "At dawn the rooster's crow could be heard."
      Active: "The rooster's crow came with dawn."


  • Use positive form.
    Use of 'not' often reads as indefinite and noncommittal, while positive form is more assertive.

    • Negative: "She did not think that studying Latin was a sensible use of time."
      Positive: "She thought the study of Latin was a waste of time."
    • Negative: "He was not very often on time."
      Positive: "He usually came late."
    • "not honest" = "dishonest"
    • "not important" = "trifling"
    • "did not remember" = "forgot"
    • "did not pay any attention to" = "ignored"
    • "did not have much confidence in" = "distrusted"


  • Make statements without using unnecessary conditionals.
    Conditionals like "could", "might", and "can" sound doubtful and lack authority.

    • Conditional: "Plath may be ranked among those modern poets who died young."
      Assertive: "Plath was one of those modern poets who died young."
    • Conditional: "Applicants can make a good impression by being neat and punctual."
      Assertive: "Applicants will make a good impression if they are neat and punctual."


  • Use definite, specific, concrete language.

    • Vague: "A period of unfavorable weather set in."
      Specific: "It rained every day for a week."
    • Vague: "He showed satisfaction as he took possession of his well-earned reward."
      Specific: "He grinned as he pocketed the coin."


  • Take out unnecessary words.

    • "the question as to whether" = "whether"
    • "there is no doubt but that" = "no doubt", "doubtless"
    • "he is a man who" = "he"
    • "owing to the fact that" = "since"
    • "in spite of the fact that" = "although", "despite"
    • "the fact that he had not succeeded" = "his failure"


  • Keep in mind the order of words.
    Order them so that your flow of thought is uninterrupted and clear.

    • Ambiguous: "He noticed a large stain in the rug that was right in the center." (Is the stain in the middle of the rug or the rug in the middle of the room?)
      Clear: "He noticed a large stain right in the center of the rug."
    • Ambiguous: "You can call your mother in London and tell her all about George's taking you out to dinner for just two dollars." (What costs two dollars, the call or the dinner?)
      Clear: "For just two dollars, you can call your mother in London and tell her all about George's taking you out to dinner."
    • Ambiguous: "There was a stir in the audience that suggested disapproval." (Does the stir or the audience suggest disapproval?)
      Clear: "A stir that suggested disapproval swept the audience."
    • Interrupted: "A dog, if you fail to discipline him, becomes a household pest."
      Uninterrupted: "Unless disciplined, a dog becomes a household pest."


  • The most emphatic place for an important word is at the end of a sentence.

    • "This steel is principally used for making razors, because of its hardness." (Emphasis on hardness, following sentences expected to discuss its hardness)
      "Because of its hardness, this steel is used principally for making razors." (Emphasis on razors)

Easily Confused Words

  • "advice" vs "advise"
    'Advice' is a noun, something you give to someone when you 'advise' them.

  • "aggravate" vs "irritate"
    'Aggravate' means to ADD to an already troublesome situation; 'irritate' means to annoy.

  • "aid" vs "aide"
    'Aid' means help or assistance, while an 'aide' is an assistant to someone important like a president.

  • "allude" vs "elude"
    An allusion is an indirect mention of something; 'elude' means to avoid, like eluding a pursuer.

  • "bear" vs "bare" ("bore" vs "bared" vs "borne")
    'Bear' as a verb means to carry, support, or endure (like 'bear with it'). 'Bear' as a noun is the furry animal. 'Bare' can be either an adjective describing something empty or uncovered or a verb meaning to uncover something.
    The past tense of 'bear' is 'bore', and if you added a 'had' it would be 'had borne'. 'Borne' can also be an adjective meaning 'carried by' or 'supported by' (like an 'air-borne virus'). The past tense of 'bare' is 'bared' (like 'he bared his head by removing his hat').

  • "began" vs "begun"
    'Began' is basic past tense, while 'begun' is used after 'had'. "He began to retch because the ship had begun to lurch."

  • "breath" vs "breathe"
    'Breath' (short e sound) is a noun, something you can lose when you're surprised. 'Breathe' (long e sound) is a verb, like to breathe deeply.

  • "could care less"
    Misconstrued form of "couldn't care less", meaning that you care so little it is impossible to care less.

  • "comprise" vs "constitute" vs "compromise"
    A zoo is comprised of animals; animals constitute a zoo. Compromise means a settlement of a dispute by both sides reaching a middle ground.

  • "decent" vs "descent"
    A decent person is a nice, acceptable person. A pilot controls an airplane's descent so that it doesn't crash into the ground.

  • "discreet" vs "discrete"
    Being discreet means to try not to draw attention to yourself. Discrete objects are clearly separated from each other.

  • "effect" vs "affect"
    To affect something means to exert an effect on it.

  • "farther" vs "further"
    'Farther' generally refers to distance, like throwing a ball farther than someone else. You can pursue a topic of conversation further.

  • "grisly" vs "grizzly"
    'Grisly' means gruesome or revolting, 'grizzly' is a type of bear.

  • "hoard" vs "horde"
    'Hoard' can be a noun referring to a stash or large collection, as well as a verb meaning to store or collect something. A 'horde' is a very large group (e.g., of people).

  • "I.e." vs "e.g."
    'I.e.' literally translates to 'that is' (i.e., another way of saying the same thing), while 'e.g.' means 'for example'.

  • "imply" vs "infer"
    'Implying' something means to suggest it without expressing it outright; 'inferring' something means to figure it out from evidence

  • "palate" vs "palette"
    The 'palate' is the roof of the mouth; a 'palette' is a board for mixing colors.

  • "sight" vs "site"
    'Sight' refers to vision, while a 'site' is a place (like the site of the crime).

  • "stationary" vs "stationery"
    'Stationary' means still, not moving; 'stationery' refers to fancy paper.

  • "tortuous" vs "torturous"
    A winding road is tortuous; a painful ordeal is torturous.

  • "wary" vs "weary"
    'Wary' means cautious or afraid; 'weary' means tired or exhausted.

  • "wreath" vs "wreathe"
    A 'wreath' is a ring-shaped arrangement of flowers, leaves, etc. (like a Christmas wreath on a door), while 'wreathe' is the verb form meaning to encircle or surround something.

Grammar: Punctuation

  • Commas (,)
    • In lists, after every term except the last (Oxford comma)

      • "He opened the letter, read it, and made a note of its contents."
      • "They invited the royals, a clown, and a dancer."
        NOTE: Without the Oxford comma, this sentence implies that the royals ARE a clown and a dancer. "They invited the royals, a clown and a dancer."


    • Enclosing parentheticals

      • "The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot."
      • "My brother, you will be pleased to hear, is now in perfect health."
      • "The audience, which had at first been indifferent, became more and more interested."


    • Before a conjunction ("and", "but", "or") joining two otherwise standalone sentences

      • "The situation is perilous, but we still have a chance of escape."
      • "The early records of the city have disappeared, and its history can no longer be reconstructed."


    • Before a descriptive phrase
      In the sentences below, replacing the comma with a period would be incorrect.

      • "She was an interesting talker, a woman who had traveled all over the world."
      • "We met many years ago on an ocean cruise, traveling to Mexico from California."

  • Semicolons (;)
    • Joining two related but otherwise standalone sentences

      • "It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark."
        NOTE: With a comma + conjunction, this becomes "It is nearly half past five, and we cannot reach down before dark."
      • "Mary Shelley's works are entertaining; they are full of entertaining ideas."
        NOTE: With a comma + conjunction, this becomes "Mary Shelley's works are entertaining, for they are full of entertaining ideas."

  • Colons (:)
    • After an independent sentence, introducing a list (or quotation)

      • "Your dedicated whittler requires three props: a knife, a piece of wood, and a back porch."
      • "The squalor of the streets reminded her of a line from Oscar Wilde: 'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.'"

  • Dashes (–)
    • As an abrupt break or interruption (considered stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon)
      Takes the place of other punctuation as a stylistic choice.

      • "His first thought on getting out of bed – if he had any thought at all – was to get back in again."
      • "The rear axle began to make a noise – a grinding, chattering, teeth-gritting rasp."


Other Grammar

  • Subject-verb agreement
    • Subject and verb should agree even with intervening words

      • "The bittersweet flavor of youth – its trials, its joys, its adventures – (is/are) not soon forgotten."


    • Plural after "one of"

      • "One of the ablest scientists who (has/have) attacked this problem…"
      • "One of those people who (is/are) never on time…"


    • Singular after "each", "either", "everyone", etc.

      • "Everybody (thinks/think) he has a unique sense of humor."
      • "Although both clocks strike cheerfully, neither (keeps/keep) good time."


    • Singular even when using "with", "in addition to", etc.

      • "His speech as well as his manner (is/are) objectionable."


    • Phrases at the beginning of a sentence should refer to the subject of the sentence

      • "A soldier of proved valor, he was entrusted with the defense of the city."
        INCORRECT: "A soldier of proved valor, they entrusted him with the defense of the city."
      • "Young and inexperienced, I thought the task easy."
        INCORRECT: "Young and inexperienced, the task seemed easy to me."

  • "Who" vs "whom"
    • Use "who" when you would otherwise use "he", and "whom" when you would use "him"

      • "He is the candidate (who/whom) we think will win." (We think [he/him] will win.)
      • "He is the candidate (who/whom) we hope to elect." (We hope to elect [he/him].)
Tag: @[Raven]

#2
This is amazing Raven! I don't know how I didn't see it until now. Thank you for the great share!
Tag: @[Soupi]

#3
Thanks Soupi, I appreciate the feedback and am glad you enjoy it! <3 Updated it now with some more easily confused words like bear/bare/borne, grisly/grizzly, stationery/stationary.

I also thought I'd share some exercises in clear and concise writing from my latest class! The assignment is to revise the wordy sentences into ones that can be easily understood on the FIRST READ. The class is a scientific writing course so the examples are tailored towards science, but the idea is the same. I've included my own rewrites (so you're not just doing my homework for me LOL), but feel free to give it a go yourself too or offer critique if you like :)

My teacher's guidelines:
  1. Delete meaningless words
    • "it is of interest to note" = interestingly
    • "due to the fact that..." = because, since
    • "a low-frequency event" = uncommon

  2. Delete double-meaning words
    • "final outcome" = outcome
    • "combine together" = combine
    • "important essentials" = essentials
    • "red in color" = red

  3. Replace phrases with single words
    • "in a careful manner" = carefully
    • "concerning the matter of" = about

  4. Delete adjectives or adverbs with no clear limit, replace with more specific language (more tailored for science, but also helpful in other contexts)
    • E.g., very, quite a few, multiple, various

  5. If someone has to reread the sentence in order to understand it, then it's not clear enough.

Exercises
  1. The increase in the reaction was observed after the addition of the copper solution.

  2. It has been observed in the past century that genetic mutation rates have been increasing in Native American tribes, according to a recent study by Smith et al.

  3. The investigation of the craft's engine bolt fragments was performed by the engineers in order to understand the origin of the craft's failure.

  4. Anti-inflammatory agents may be protective for the occurrence of Alzheimer's disease and may reduce the progression of the disease.

  5. Baby walkers are devices that provide pre-ambulatory infants with postural support in addition to offering them the opportunity to experience bipedal locomotion. They are intended to simulate the infant's independent locomotion and by doing so, it is argued, encourage and even accelerate the early acquisition of this skill.

  6. An increase in blood pressure was observed in rats, which occurred after employment of the lithium compound in food.

  7. The human endocrine system is responsible for the secretion of hormones and also for the regulation and metabolism of hormones throughout the human body.

  8. The supplementation of zinc in mothers during pregnancy to observe changes in birth parameters such as weight was our primary objective in this study.


My rewrites:
  1. Adding the copper solution accelerated the reaction.

  2. Smith et al. demonstrated that mutation rates among Native American tribes have increased over the past century.

  3. The engineers studied the engine bolt fragments to investigate why the craft failed.

  4. Anti-inflammatory agents may reduce the incidence as well as progression of Alzheimer's disease.

  5. Baby walkers provide postural support for pre-ambulatory infants as they learn to walk. By simulating independent walking, the walkers encourage infants to begin ambulating early.

  6. Rats fed with lithium compound displayed a subsequent increase in blood pressure.

  7. The human endocrine system controls the secretion, regulation, and metabolism of hormones throughout the body.

  8. Our study investigates the effects of prenatal zinc supplementation on birth weight.
Tag: @[Raven]