Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Elements of (Online) Style and Passion

Christina Wodtke had a nice article earlier this month on Boxes and Arrows, "Putting the White Back in Strunk and White."

Find anyone who has taught Composition over the last 40+ years, and I guarantee 99% can recite direct quotes from S&W. And it's not because Comp teachers are at their core pedantic rule-junkies. Ok, some are, but regardless of writing and teaching philosophies, we all find "rich deposits of gold" in Strunk's original and White's augmented Elements of Style. Who among us doesn't have "Omit needless words" or "Write with nouns and verbs" burned into her brain? Who doesn't feel an odd mix of comfort, determination, and joy when reading statements such as these:

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

"The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place."

"Rather, very, little, pretty--these are the leeches that infest the pond of the prose, sucking the blood of words."

I don't agree with everything Strunk and White declare, and I always pointed out inconsistencies to my students to remind them that even those who write rulebooks sometimes play fast and loose with the so-called rules. But it is one of only two books I keep more than 3 copies of, and which I keep at hand at all times. (The other is a certain novel about a whale.)

What I like about Wodtke's article isn't just the reminder to use Elements of Style to help guide Web design, I.A., and content (a given), but to view it as a guide to balancing, considering, and sometimes incorporating and sometimes discounting the passionate declarations of our peers regarding what is "right" and, more often, "wrong."

Wodtke writes, "As we read vigorous statements such as 'Flash is bad' or 'Don’t do testing; just ship and watch,' it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction. But stepping back from the initial emotional slap, we can see more than a petite dictator laying down the law. We can see an impassioned craftsman trying to share both his love of the trade and impart some of his hard earned learnings. Like White, can we begin to love and listen to all the Strunks out there, without becoming angry but instead synthesizing their knowledge with own perspective?...The real secret of E.B. White is listening, incorporating, translating, and finally accepting pundits into our practice. We aren't at war at all. We all want the same thing. We all want more great work in the world."


Blogger Scott! said...

While reading this, I was listening to the Merriam-Webster's word of the day podcast. The word for that day was Rube Goldberg. Nice contrast with 'omit needless words'. :)

3:59 PM  
Blogger erindowney said...

Now I feel like finding someone to call a "petite dictator." :)

1:45 PM  

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