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Writing Resources for Legal Writers

Usage Guides Aimed at Legal Writers

Usage Guides & Texts: General

Sidebar on The Elements of Style

The Elements of Style was originally published by William Strunk for his undergraduate students at Cornell. New Yorker writer E.B. White expanded it for commercial publication in 1959, and it has been very popular (for a usage guide) since.

Advantages: it is short and easy to skim. Some writers find it refreshing to read the direct advice and be reminded of sensible goals, like clarity and concision.

But some of the advice is muddled or incorrect. It can be taken too far. For example, a writer who understands the advice to avoid the passive voice as an unbreakable law would not be able to write, "It can be taken too far." But that sentence is fine. I chose to say "The Elements of Style was originally published by William Stunk" (passive voice) rather than "William Strunk published The Elements of Style" (active voice) because I wanted to emphasize the book (which you might have heard of) and not the author (who probably isn't important to you).

For a critique of The Elements of Style, see Geoffrey K. Pullam, 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice, Chronicle of Higher Education (Apr. 17, 2009).



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