Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace

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

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College Communication Currently Reading Default Education Non Fiction On Writing Reference To Read Writing

Reader's Thoughts

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.


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.


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.


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


The best book on grammar and syntax I've read.Makes Strunk and White's Elements of Style seem way too spartan in comparison.I wish I'd read this before I finished my degree.:(


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.


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 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.

Marc Perry

If you read only one book to improve how you write, edit, and read English prose, then in my opinion, it should be this book by Joseph Williams. This is not a book for the uninitiated. Rather, this is a book for experienced writers who are unhappy with how they write, and are flailing around looking for some way to improve their writing. It is all in here; the history of how the English language assimilated multiple words, with different origins, that have similar or identical meanings; how obtuse, and turgid, academic writing became in the interest of appearing erudite; and of course, how you can cut, slash, and burn, your own sentences so that they leap off the page in a way that the reader effortlessly absorbs your meaning, intent and thoughts. Williams is phenomenal in his deep understanding of what makes poor writing awful, and what makes good writing delightful.

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.


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.

Patrick Garrett

A Rather Expensive Guide with Little Unique ContentThough well written--a prerequisite for a style book--I wasn't blown away by this guide's content. A required text for a rhetorical studies seminar at UC, Riverside, we compared this book with Virginia Tufte's Artful Sentences to glean practical value from a spectrum of books that have the intention of distilling style into a couple hundred pages. The approach in this text comes in response to, and in some ways falls short of, the seminal Elements of Style. That is, presenting some fundamental rules, which claim to be more universal than others, and urging writers to adopt them judiciously. Tufte's approach, however, categorizing sentences broadly and provides many (my classmates thought too many) examples in each category--a stylistic immersion of a kind. If immersion isn't for you, and you're looking for a sort of check-list for grammar and style, I would suggest going with Elements of Style. If you've already read EOS, your looking for the same rules in a fresh voice, and you have a few bucks to spend, go ahead and buy this guide.

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.


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.

Rachel Schmidt

I loved this book. I used it to teach advanced ESL writing courses.

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