Does your business bookshelf include this 1919 classic?

by Peter Osborne on November 6, 2010 · 0 comments

“Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language.” — Rule 12

There’s no shortage of blogs about new and favorite business books.  In the past week, I’ve stumbled across lists from Chris Brogan (he linked this week to a number of video reviews — click on the Escape Velocity Bookshelf one on page 2) and Beth Harte (with a list of Social Media primers).  I write periodic “Must Read” posts that include my weekly roundup of great posts and there’s an Amazon affiliate link in the right-hand column to some I think are best for new consultants.

Recent (and future) inclusions to these Must Read lists include Unmarketing by Scott Stratton, Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson, Brains on Fire by the principals of a South Carolina agency, Resonate by Nancy Duarte, The Referral Engine by John Jantsch, Leadership Rules by Chris Widener, and the soon-to-be-released Content Rules by Ann Handle and C.C. Chapman.  In each case, these books will help you be more efficient, serve customers more effectively, or change your approach to marketing. 

As someone who sees a lot of writing in the course of a day, I think many consultants and small-business owners could benefit from reading a tome that was published in 1919.

Did memories of 11th Grade English just cause your heart to stop for a second?

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.  Buy it.  It’s that simple.

“Seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused — that was the sum and substance of Professor Strunk’s work,” said E.B. White who added a fifth chapter in 1957 called “An Approach to Style.”   A student of Professor Strunk’s in 1919 at Cornell University, Mr. White eventually added four rules of usage and some “words and expressions of a recent vintage” to the professor’s original book.

Need I say more?  To paraphrase the movie Jerry Maguire, I probably had you at Strunk and White (unless you had a particularly scary run of English teachers in high school).  Between IMs and Tweets and other barriers to even marginally coherent writing, this book screams to be picked up every few months and reviewed.  A chapter here, a rule there.  Have a question?  Is it effect or affect? Its or it’s? Leave it on your desk.  And trust me, many people aren’t using it and should be.

My copy (the 50th anniversary edition) only runs 85 pages (not counting the glossary and index).  The Contents page provides the full list of “elements.”

One more thing: Buy a copy for the children in your life – regardless of their ages.  Our kids are growing up with little regard for the English language.  It would be a heckuva gift to give them — even if they moan a bit when they unwrap it.

And with that, I’ll stop.  Because, as Rule 17 clearly states, “Avoid needless words.”

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