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  • Writer's pictureKate Lohnes

Classic writing tips from “The Elements of Style”

Picture of a book and a letter

Good writing never goes out of style.

Years ago, Mary gave me a copy of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” Now several decades old, my copy is dog-eared and pen-marked.

“The Elements of Style” was published in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., an English professor at Cornell University. This classic manual espouses writing principles that stand the test of time.

As our industry dives deeper into formulaic, and often wordy, AI-generated content, we would do well to revisit the foundation of effective writing.

In that spirit, I offer up my favorite jewels of wisdom from “The Elements of Style” —

1. “Omit needless words.”

This is the single most effective tip for clean, concise copy. Removing extemporaneous words simply makes your writing better.

Clean copy, just like clean design, takes time and effort to achieve. (In full disclosure, I tabled this blog post for months, revisiting it with fresh eyes to pare down the prose.)

2. “Use the active voice.”

Active voice is more direct, energetic and engaging. Consider this example from the book:

Passive: My first trip to Boston will always be remembered by me.

Active: I will always remember my first trip to Boston.

When you use the active voice, your statements tend to be shorter, too.

3. “Use definite, specific, concrete language.”

Simply put, say what you mean. Avoid flowery language. It distracts from your core message. See:

“A period of unfavorable weather set in.” vs. “It rained every day for a week.”

4. “Choose a suitable design and hold to it.”

Writing needs structure. Creating a detailed outline or basic wireframe is a crucial step.

More wisdom rests in the pages of “The Elements of Style,” and I highly recommend reading, or revisiting, this delightful book. Although the language can feel dated, the principles are evergreen.

Here is my last tip for those who need it –

5. You don’t have go it alone!

Find a good copy editor or strategist to help you develop your written work.

Writing is a team sport at Lilja – we refine and elevate our stories together. Whether it's a thought leadership article, an infographic or a book, the principles of good writing always apply.



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