This book aims to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style. It aims to lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention (in Chapters II and III) on a few essentials, the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated. In accordance with this plan it lays down three rules for the use of the comma, instead of a score or more, and one for the use of the semicolon, in the belief that these four rules provide for all the internal punctuation that is required by nineteen sentences out of twenty. Similarly, it gives in Chapter III only those principles of the paragraph and the sentence which are of the widest application. The book thus covers only a small portion of the field of English style. The experience of its writer has been that once past the essentials, students profit most by individual instruction based on the problems of their own work, and that each instructor has his own body of theory, which he may prefer to that offered by any textbook.
The numbers of the sections may be used as references in correcting manuscript.
The writer’s colleagues in the Department of English in Cornell University have greatly helped him in the preparation of his manuscript. Mr. George McLane Wood has kindly consented to the inclusion under Rule 10 of some material from his Suggestions to Authors.
The following books are recommended for reference or further study: in connection with Chapters II and IV, F. Howard Collins, Author and Printer (Henry Frowde); Chicago University Press, Manual of Style; T. L. De Vinne, Correct Composition (The Century Company); Horace Hart, Rules for Compositors and Printers (Oxford University Press); George McLane Wood, Extracts from the Style-Book of the Government Printing Office (United States Geological Survey); in connection with Chapters III and V, The King’s English (Oxford University Press); Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, The Art of Writing (Putnam), especially the chapter, Interlude on Jargon; George McLane Wood, Suggestions to Authors (United States Geological Survey); John Lesslie Hall, English Usage (Scott, Foresman and Co.); James P. Kelley, Workmanship in Words (Little, Brown and Co.). In these will be found full discussions of many points here briefly treated and an abundant store of illustrations to supplement those given in this book.
It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature.