Style Rules

1.1. Avoid passive verbs, forms of to be, and there is/are. Use active verbs instead. (The Elements of Style, pp. 33-4.) 

Original: The life led by Jane Eyre was one of misery. 

Better: Jane Eyre led a miserable life.

Original: There are many problems in this world.

Better: This world contains many problems.

1.2. Avoid “nominalizations”: verbs which have been turned into nouns. These clunky nouns usually end in suffixes such as tion, ment, ance, ence, ity, and ness. Use active verbs and strong nouns instead (See Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, pp. 31-52).

Original: Jane achieved an elevation of happiness through consideration of her duty. 

Better: Jane grew happier when she considered her duty.

1.3. Avoid overly elaborate wordings (“High Style”) and common idioms (“Low Style”). Instead, use the “Middle Style,” which consists of “appropriate, precise, concise, and vivid diction” (The Office of Assertion p. 84).

Original: lets off the hook

More appropriate: pardons

Original: good

More precise: pleasant, competent, moral, likable

Original: the man who would not live to see another day

More concise: the dying man

Original: causes to be

More vivid: creates

1.4. Avoid putting long subordinate clauses before the main clause unless you have a good reason to do so.

Original: When Jane was living in her aunt’s house, a wealthy estate where she spent most of her childhood along with her ill-bred cousins and a few immature servants, she was very unhappy. 

Better: Jane spent an unhappy childhood at her aunt’s home, where she lived with her ill-bred cousins and a few immature servants.

1.5. Avoid redundancy. Be concise, and vary your words. (See Style, pp. 135-8.)

Original: I was a little girl once. And like all little girls, I was a little girl who liked and enjoyed playing. 

Better: When I was a little girl, I enjoyed playing as much as any other young person.

1.6. Use modifiers wisely.

Original: Loud, insubordinate, and angry children rarely enjoy to the least degree the lavish, generous outpourings of their loving and hard-working parents.

Better: Insubordinate children rarely enjoy their parents’ generosity.

1.7. Prefer positive statements to negative ones. (The Elements of Style, pp. 34-7.)

Original: Charles Dickens was not an unskilled author.

Better: Charles Dickens wrote skillfully.

Original: The plan did not seem implausible

Better: The plan seemed plausible.

1.8. Do not carelessly switch subjects mid-paragraph. (Style, pp. 77-94.)

Original: Achilles fought the Trojans for nine years. The tenth year, however, marked the beginning of his decline, when all the Greeks sadly watched him abandon them. 

Better: After fighting the Trojans for nine years, Achilles abandoned his comrades during the tenth year of the conflict.

1.9. Arrange similar or antithetical parts of a sentence in parallel constructions. (The Elements of Style, pp. 43-4; see also Rod and Staff English Handbook, pp. 138-41.)

Examples of similar parts: 

Original: It was never my duty, nor did I feel the desire, to help her. 

Better: I had no duty and no desire to help her.

Original: Achilles returned to the Greeks with passion, angrily, and having been away for a long time. 

Better: At last, Achilles returned to the Greek ranks, though he did so angrily and passionately.

Original: Achilles returned at last, weary of waiting, when he was ready, and having been requested by his fellow soldiers

Better: Achilles returned at the request of his fellow soldiers and the promptings of his own weary heart.

Examples of antithetical parts: 

Original: Achilles did not come for a long time, but the Greeks had Patroclus to help them. Better: Achilles stayed away for a long time, but Patroclus helped all the while.

1.10. Use a variety of sentence structures, orderings, and styles. (See The Office of Assertion pp. 87-99; Rod and Staff English Handbook, pp. 141-5.)

1.10.1. Vary your sentence structure by using a combination of simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.

Simple: one independent clause

Every man in Greece had loved Helen at one time or another.

Compound: two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction.

Every man in Greece had loved Helen, and every man still loved her.

Complex: one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

Even after Menelaus married Helen, every man in Greece secretly continued to love her.

Compound-complex: two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.

When Paris had abducted Helen, Menelaus called a council, and the whole Greek assembly decided to sail for Troy.

1.10.2. Vary your word order by using a combination of natural, inverted, and mixed orders.

Natural: the complete subject precedes the complete predicate.

Helen stood on the city walls.

Inverted: the complete predicate precedes the complete subject.

On the city walls stood Helen.

Mixed: the predicate surrounds the subject.

On the city walls Helen stood.

1.10.3. Vary your sentence style by using a combination of natural, loose, and balanced styles. (Rod and Staff English Handbook, pp. 142-3.)

Loose: the most important part of the sentence comes first.

She stood in the middle of the room with her mouth open.

Periodic: the most important part of the sentence comes last.

Her mouth open and her eyes wide, she stood there gaping.

Balanced: the sentence contains two perfectly parallel clauses.

He looked at her, and she looked back.

He smiled without humor; she giggled without confidence.

Most people like chocolate; others prefer caramel.