Saturday, May 21, 2016

Coaching Writing with Strunk and White

A friend of mine was telling me how hard it was to coach his daughter on writing.  He was coaching her by red-lining her compositions and explaining why he marked up sections.  When I asked what book or guidelines he used to teach her, he said he had none.  I asked him if he had a copy of Strunk and White and found he had not heard of the book.

For all you parents who are helping your children with their writing, I recommend The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White.  William Strunk, a professor at Cornell, taught E.B. White, one of America's better known writers.  Dr. Strunk's concise notes on writing style, used in Cornell starting in 1918, are a great starting point for teaching competent writing because the small amount of material for a student to master makes the teaching and learning of the material manageable.  It is brilliant.

I still have a copy from my college days and I got a copy for my son when I coached him on writing.  The second edition is 78 pages long, but the first edition was only 26 pages.  You can download a PDF copy of the first edition from this website:  Being only 26 pages long, you can easily print the entire 1st edition.  I recommend you start using the book in middle school.  Children are more cooperative in middle school.  High school age children can be very temperamental and hard to coach.

At some point you will want a book on grammar when you coach your child on writing.  As I mentioned earlier Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliot is excellent for middle school grammar

Children need personal attention to improve their writing.  They will not get personal attention at school.  A teacher with over 100 students will not be red-lining child's compositions and explaining the markups.  If you can coach your child in writing, that would be a blessing to your child.


Among the blurbs on the back of my copy of Strunk & White is one by Dorothy Parker:  "It is a book to put alongside Fowler's works, and I can think of no higher praise."  So who is this Fowler?  Henry Watson Fowler is probably the source for much of Strunk's stylistic guidelines.  There is certainly some overlap in their advice.  The King's English by Henry Watson Fowler and Francis George Fowler (brothers) was published in England in 1906.  However, The King's English is much longer than Strunk's work.  The 2nd edition of The King's English, 1922, is 392 pages long.  Strunk at 26 pages is a godsend!  Here is a PDF online for Fowler's The King's English:

Canadian lawyer Julian Burnside said this in his tribute to The King's English:  "My  affection  for  this  book  began  50 years ago, when my father decided that my English education needed to be supplemented." Notice his father coached him on his writing!  There is an online copy of The King's English here:'s_English

Later, Fowler wrote in 1926 a follow-on book, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.  This is the book referenced by Dorothy Parker.  This book is usually called Fowler’s Modern English Usage or Fowler’s for short, as Dorothy Parker said.  This was the book educated people turned to for a reference on rhetoric.  It is said Winston Churchill directed his officials to read it.  Fowler's is even longer than The King's English.  Fowler's is 899 pages.  That is right, it is almost a thousand pages long.  Thank heavens for William Strunk! You can download a PDF of Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3rd revised edition) here:'s+Modern+English+Usage.pdf

I love writing so I think I will enjoy perusing these older style guides.  If you love writing you too might enjoy exploring them.  As free PDF files, the price is certainly right!

In closing I will mention that Strunk & White is a great book for basic writing, but it is not the ultimate book on writing style.  This masterpiece is not the end of the road, but the beginning of the road to great writing.