Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace

ISBN: 0321330854
ISBN 13: 9780321330857
By: Joseph M. Williams

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Reader's Thoughts


Very, very clear, well written, and it explains the dilemmas and controversies of style. It is designed to empower the reader to make their own decisions about rules and choose a style, rather than suggesting a "best" style and how to follow it.


Anyone who writes anything should spend some time reading this book and doing the exercises it contains. I revisit it often and am never disappointed with what I learn.

Ian Yang

Don't know how I actually bumped into this great book, I guess I was just fortunate when I fortuitously picked the right book that accidentally mentioned it. I wonder why I was never introduced to it when attending university 'cause it not only clarifies plenty of practical and fundamental knowledge about writing in English (or rewriting, quoting the author) but helps a great deal when you want to rephrase a more complex sentence and make it less impersonal and obscure, especially when the materials are offered - those you read in textbooks or professional writing - by someone who isn't capable of writing in a clearer and simpler way. I genuinely believe this book will make a great, life-time companion as my reading and writing experience grows with time.


Joe Williams knows what he is talking about. His rhetorical analysis toward the end of the book was extremely interesting and gave me new insights into how historical figures write.

Bob Nichols

Williams starts strong in his first chapter when he breaks English usage into three categories: Real rules (e.g., articles precede nouns); rules that distinguish standard dialect from non-standard (which is preferable to "correct," "incorrect"), and rules that Williams calls “folklore.” The latter is where he says we need to relax. There can and should be flexibility and creativity here. Williams uses many boxes and diagrams that were difficult to decipher. His jargon (e.g., resumptive modifiers, summative modifiers, free modifiers) at times was thick. His discussion in Chapter Three on nominalization was challenging, as might be gathered by the use of this word. His opening Chapter Four quote, “When character is lost, all is lost,” is about the quality of a person and seems unrelated to the chapter’s title,“Characters,” which is about turning subjects into tangible characters, as actors. His Chapter Ten quote from Bertrand Russell made no sense after several readings; I don’t know what Russell was saying. This was after the Williams’ discussion on clarity.The chapter on the ethics of writing was good. One of the examples is from a company defending its actions. While it is masterfully written, it is self-serving and misleading. Williams then compares that to Jefferson’s language in the Declaration of Independence, which was equally masterful and manipulative. This raises an interesting question about why manipulation in the latter is o.k. while the former is not. In a third example, Williams goes off track. He uses a utility’s letter announcing a rate increase as an example of how language masks intent. Williams rewrote the paragraph to say how he, the customer-consumer, gets harmed. But he left out the utility’s central point in its letter – that the increased rate was due to the increased cost of providing services. Overall, the clarity and grace in this book is spotty.


Not too bad for an English textbook. My favorite parts are when Williams makes the very mistakes he chastises other writers for doing.

Thi T.

I agree with another reviewer who said it was great for left-brain writing. Fantastic book for getting you into the actual "doing" of writing well. I feel like a better reader (or critic) after using this book, too.


Incredibly elegant manual on writing mostly for research purposes. Each chapter is preceded by quotes that illustrate the point of the following section beautifully, poetically. The writing is so clear and direct yet friendly and inviting, I'd love to write half as well as the author of this manual.


This book was recommended by a dear friend. It arrived today via snail mail and appears to have had a good, long life in the Trinity Western Library. How I wish they would have left the card and card holder in the back jacket of the book. I was pleasantly surprised to read Elaine Chaika's name in the acknowledgments (page XV). As the author, J.M.Williamson points out, this is not the kind of book to be taken in at one sitting or even two. That is fine with me because, it gives me a chance to ponder each lesson at my own pace. More importantly, it provides me with the opportunity to mull over the concepts and make the lessons my own. Thank you Elaine. I am loving it.Btw, Elaine; I have taken in your latest post on the "r" pronunciation and my eyes are still crossed. I felt like a mouth breather when I was done with that one. I am not worried however because complicated material has the same effect on me as time has on the fermenting grape; there's wine in them thar grapes.


This is a brilliant little guide to improving your writing that I wish I had known about when I was an English teacher.Williams begins with the basics and builds up to chapters on style and usage. The underlying themes throughout are two: Good writing is not limited to professional authors - anyone can do it with sufficient practice and a decent amount of concern about what you write; and the rules of grammar and syntax are guides to clear communication. Writers can "bend" and even break them in the interests of that communication.Definitely recommended to anyone who writes (prose, poetry or nonfiction) and to those of us who edit them.


Certainly not a quick reference book, but I think it has good points for writers willing to read through it. Williams doesn't oversimplify suggestions on language use, which is refreshing, but that definitely makes it a book that you've got to really pick up and read, rather than take from your bookshelf when you have a quick editing question. (Although there are good books out there for that, too). He writes, "This is a book about writing clearly. I wish it could be short and simple like some others more widely known, but want to do more than just urge writers to 'Omit Needless Words' or ;Be clear.' 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. To explain how to write clearly, I have to go beyond platitudes"(1).


This is the how-to book on writing you have probably been looking for. Unlike other entries on the subject, Williams avoids using his as a forum for airing grammatical pet-hates or as a litany of personal grievances and weird prejudices (was it Strunk & White who insisted on 'studentry' rather 'student body' because the latter sounded vulgarly corporeal?) Williams merely sets out, in clean, concise chapters, the fundamentals of good sentence structure, while leaving plenty of room for those 'artful interruptions' that help the broader effect of a passage of writing even as they momentarily hinder its flow. My favourite aspect of Style is how the author breaks down the writing of effective longer sentences. Many inexperienced writers, he notes, upon assimilating advice to avoid longer structures, end up with punchy, abrupt sentences and an unappealingly clipped style of writing (I think we've all been there.) As Williams demonstrates, this need not be so. When written with balance and symmetry, longer sentences can pack an almighty punch of their own.


This is the best "how to" book I've ever read. Williams breaks the writing process into 10 key elements that ensure that the message is correct and will be read. He provides many examples and goes through the process of editing samples from good to really great. Chapter 9, Elegance, is absolutely amazing. I need to reread this book!


I had to read this book for a writing class I took called, "Writing, Technology, and Style." Despite some places where I felt where Williams went into too much detail, I thoroughly enjoyed his chapter on usage because it was just another tally mark of books that I've read that talk about how teaching nothing but grammar to students actually makes them worse writers. Again, there were quite a few chapters in this book that I glossed over because some of the things Williams was saying were too complicated, but on the whole, I really enjoyed this book.

Jo Deurbrouck

Yum, grammar porn! I could watch Williams parse beautiful, grammatically sophisticated sentences all day long. I also appreciate his easy refreshers for concepts like 'nominalization,' 'summative clause,' and the difference between coherence and cohesion. These things only stay fresh in my mind if I take myself back to school now and then. Some reviewers have dinged the man for being a less-than-graceful writer from time to time. This doesn't detract from the book's value for me. What would, I think, if I had read them, were the exercises. I have no interest in reading bad writing for the sole purpose of practicing ways to improve it. I believe a fine-tuned ear comes from what you read. I skipped all of the exercises, wishing all the while that Williams had taken the Francine Prose approach, giving me page after page of lovely examples I could wallow in instead of messes he thought I'd enjoy cleaning up.

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