‘Use definite, specific, concrete language’

If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point, it is this: the surest way to arouse and hold the reader’s attention is by being specific, definite, and concrete. The greatest writers…are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures.

—William Strunk and E.B. White

2013-11-25 15.28.33

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Categories: Writing

2 Comments on “‘Use definite, specific, concrete language’”

  1. December 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    I have at least four copies of this book on my shelf, but the edition that you feature here with the Maira Kalman illustrations is my favorite. I loved Kalman’s beautiful New York Times blog “And the Pursuit of Happiness.” I thought it offered an engaging depiction of one person’s interaction with American history.

    The insight that Strunk and White offer writers through their contention that one’s writing should be “definite, specific, and concrete” is a valuable insight. It’s an instruction that I find myself constantly making. Novice writers try so hard to avoid committing themselves to a claim that their ideas are lost in vague, abstract prose. At one point in American history, there seemed to be an investment in eloquently and clearly articulating complex views. Currently, novice writers find themselves proffering ideas that seek to avoid controversy. This desire for evasiveness leads to writing that clearly rejects the idea that a writer should use “definite, specific, and concrete language.”

    At the other extreme, novice writers appear to use the “hot topics” model as an interpretation of crafting “definite, specific, and concrete” prose. In this case, the writing conflates a caustic tone with clarity and command.

    Thank you for sharing this very important insight offered in the most elegant edition of a classic text. EMM

    • December 3, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

      Thank you for your insight and for sharing info about the blog. Strunk and White’s guidance is a timeless tool, an invaluable resource for writing.

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