Style guides: 50 years of Strunk and White

Strunk and White’s "The Elements of Style," one of the most famous books about grammar and usage, was published 50 years ago April 16. The slim book has sold more than 10 million copies, according to this Associated Press report. Its influence is wide.

William Strunk Jr., an English professor at Cornell University, published his own book in 1918 as a guide to his students. One student, E.B. White, became a well-regarded writer and revised the book for publication in 1959. The book emphasizes plain, clear and concise writing, and lays down rules such as "omit needless words" and "use the proper case of pronoun." Many college students and journalists have used Strunk and White and have become better writers.

Strunk and White might be the first usage book I read. Editors I worked for in my first years in the newspaper business swore by the little book. Indeed, more than one journalist has told me, "Strunk and White is all you need to know how to write." Perhaps that’s true.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.