Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style

It is hard to ignore the many political columnists striving to make their points about the current presidential race. What makes a powerful essay? I go to my favorite handbook for writers, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

“If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point, it is on this: the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite, and concrete.”

Clearly, this separates logical arguments from rants. Elements goes on to say, “In exposition and in argument, the writer must likewise never lose hold upon the concrete; and even when he is dealing with general principles, he must furnish particular instances of their application.”

We can probably all agree, this race is never dull. But in the excitement, I see emotion carrying even mainstream columnists to overreach logical arguments to the personal. A re-reading of this classic should get writers back to the vivid from the vague.

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