During my training sessions such as ‘How to write copy that journalists actually use’, ‘Press releases that get results’ and ‘Pitching ideas to editors’, I’m often asked which are the best books for people who want to improve their writing accuracy and style.
I recommend two books: ‘The Elements of Style’ and ‘The Economist Style Guide’.
The Elements of Style was written byWilliam Strunck (a Cornell professor) and EB White (author of children’s classics such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little). First published in 1918, it has been through several revisions and now comprises 105 pages of the crispest, most insightful and entertaining advice you will read on how to write. Some might find their forthright style a little hard to take, but I think that there can be few books that cram so much advice into so few words, and make it all seem so straightforward. When I first found this many years ago it was a revelation and an inspiration, and I now eagerly foist it onto anyone who asks for my advice on this.
The Economist is one of the best written publications you can buy today. I may disagree with its writers on almost every single point they make, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the way in which they make those points. In fact the way in which it has continued to grow its readership over the last two years when almost every single aspect of its free market doctrine has been shown to have failed is testament to the quality of its writing.This is reflected in its style guide which offers sensible advice on how to write accurately and clearly. It also contains a very useful alphabetised section, so if, for example, you are unsure whether something should be capitalised or hyphenated, you can go straight there and find out.
There are plenty of other good books on writing style, and I’d welcome feedback on what readers have found useful. So far though I am yet to find two better books on the English language. My advice to anyone who wants to become a better writer is to buy both these, read The Elements of Style cover to cover once a year, and keep The Economist Style Guide as a desk reference.
Oh, and come on one of my training courses.