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Notes on a Book - the Elements of Style

The Elements of Style may seem like an unusual choice of reading material for someone trying to improve his web development skills. But from a personal improvement aspect, the book was entirely appropriate. On top of that, the web site I’m working on is a writing web site, so having the style and grammar reference book on my shelf only makes sense.

I actually checked this book out from the library, but I just placed an order for it on half.com. It’s dry, no doubt, but often reference material is dry. Yet I think the book is a must read for anyone whose career depends in the least bit on writing. Whether one is writing a blog, 100-word story, or user scenario, clear and natural writing can be an outstanding skill to have.

It was difficult to take notes on a reference book, but there are a couple things I wrote down along the way.

The reading list has been updated, natch.

Brain dump:

A tame passage of exposition can be made lively by using a transitive in an active voice.

Write statements in positive form; even when the statements are negative.

Avoid introducing uncertainty (would, might) unless clearly appropriate.

Be specific, not generic.

Omit needless words. Every word should tell.

And a great William Strunk quote: Vigorous writing is concise.

Bonus brain dump:

I also paged through The Elements of Typographic Style, though I was not inspired to read the book. By all accounts it’s a good book, but it just didn’t grab me. I may come back to it later when I have some more time for related, but perhaps not necessary, reading material. For now I plan to follow the Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web project.

During my paging I found two helpful tips:

Typically paragraph indents occur in all but the first paragraph. The indent tends to be of about 1 em. The reason for this is that a paragraph indent is designed to depict separation. The first paragraph of a section/chapter/whatever is usually separated from the header or description preceding it.

When typing abbreviations or acronyms within the flow of text, use small caps. The exceptions are two-letter geographic acronyms, like MN, and acronyms that represent personal names, such as JFK.