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Williams’ “Style: Toward Clarity and Grace,” Chapters 6-10 – English 328: Writing, Style, & Technology
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Williams’ “Style: Toward Clarity and Grace,” Chapters 6-10

Here’s where we’ll talk about the last part of the Williams book.

But let me say first that I realize that there’s a lot of stuff going on right now with getting the ancient style and YouTube projects finished (remember– those are due on Monday by midnight!) so if this conversation doesn’t get going until Tuesday, I’m okay with that.

I’m glad that folks seem to like Williams for the most part, though I have to say that I am not as crazy about the last part, as you’ll see with some of my notes after the “continued” part.

Chapter 6: Coherence II

  • Gotta have a point. Pages 98 and 99.  And let me say that the conversation that Williams has with that mythical writer on the bottom of page 98/top of page 99 is one I have with students all the time.  Writers often think things are “obvious” that readers don’t think are obvious at all, which is why as a writer, you want to make sure you have a point.
  • Points are typically in “Issues” (99-102), sometimes at the end of a discussion (page 102-103), and are troubled with Introductions.  Williams talks about introductions a bit on page 103, though there’s probably a lot more to be said about writing an effective introduction.
  • I think the discussion about “points in whole documents” on page 107 is quite interesting.  Here Williams acknowledges that he’s talking about writing “in our culture,” and how different cultures have different ideas/concepts of directness and stating points in writing.  Besides being right, I find it fascinating because this is of course not at all on the radar for Strunk and White.
  • “The Model Entire” on page 108-09, if you like the charts.  Also, a good point on page 109:  it’s better to have paragraphs (for this kind of writing, at least) that are “clear” than “works of art.”
  • Again, he closes the chapter with revision ideas.

Chapter 7: Concision

  • This is the point in the book where things get a little less specific for me.  While the first six chapters– chapters 2 through 6 in particular– offer really concrete advice for making writing more clear, here we start to venture into territory that is quite a bit more abstract and subjective, IMO.
  • 115: Be clear and concise, which is pretty much what this chapter is getting at.
  • Of course, one of the problems is that in school, we aren’t really taught to be “concise.”
  • Pages 118-119: The difference between “Pompous Diction” and using the right word, even if it is a “big word.”  I particularly like his discussion at the top of page 119 of “intransigent.”
  • Excessive detail on 120; being a member of a community on page 121.
  • Page 122 and the danger of summarizing too much.  I can tell you this is a pretty common problem in student writing, particularly when students are not familiar with a topic.  It seems to me that they then often have a need to summarize and not analyze because they don’t understand something well enough to analyze it.
  • Page 125 and metadiscourse again (this came up before in chapter 2).
  • And, as is the case throughout the book, a lot of good tips at the end here:  hedges (126), attributors and narrators (which kind of has to do with the use of “I” too– see 128), and not the negative (which Strunk and White agree with– see page 130).

Chapter 8: Length

  • Unlike S&W, who are basically saying you should always have simple and short sentences, Williams is trying to show how to write a long one that does not “sprawl.”
  • Lots of great tips. However, by page 143, and things start to get a bit more vague:  note phrases like “its us take a breath at reasonable intervals” or “the first forces us to hold our breath,” and so forth.
  • But lots more good tips throughout this chapter though on how to manage longer sentences.

Chapter 9: Elegance

  • For me, this chapter is a real departure from the previous chapters because he’s “showing” something that not everyone can master if they follow a series of steps.  Take a look at what he has to say on page 153, for example.
  • And again, it gets more vague for me.  For example, on page 157 he talks about arranging sentences based on our “mind’s ear…”  Huh?!  I don’t know about that….
  • The examples are good and interesting, but again, this is more about the “art” of writing that can’t really be taught but that can be learned.

Chapter 10: Usage

  • Just what is “grammar,” anyway? A descriptive system, for Williams…though there are “rules” that ought to be considered for “standard English.” See pages 171-173.
  • Page 176: “Three Kinds of Rules.” Which leads to four groups of rules as he sees it:
    • “Real Rules,” page 180.
    • “Folklore,” pages 181-186 (and Williams is trying to be cheeky here….).
    • “Optional Rules,” 186-190.
    • Betes Noires (or “pet peeves”), 192.
  • Sexism and language, 192-195. Note how Williams talks about this “he/she/they” issue quite differently than Strunk and White.

Posted in Class Readings.

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