Discourse on the Style Manual Strunk and White

by Dr. Jasmin Bey Cowin

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In his style guide, Strunk discusses in detail the defining principles of composition and writing. His 11 Elementary Principles of Composition contain several noteworthy points. Among his recommendations are “to choose a suitable design and hold to it, make the paragraph the unit of composition, begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence and thoughtful use of the active voice”. Essentially, writing with these elementary building blocks can be compared to creating a music composition. Paragraphs symbolize harmony, topic sentences depict the melody and the active voice represents the dynamics.
Paragraphs comprise the first unit, the body of the composition. After introducing the main idea at the beginning of a paragraph, three to five sentences follow and support the main idea within. A closing sentence finishes the paragraph and serves as the recapitulation of the main idea put forth. As harmonious building blocks of coherence, paragraphs aid the reader to follow the logical development of the composition.

Focused, clear, specific topic sentences state the main idea of the paragraph. A strong topic sentence serves as the ‘hook’, the ‘melody’ – an invitation to the reader to further explore the text. A topic sentence focuses on and highlights the main idea of the paragraph. The format of a topic sentence is topic + a controlling idea. The controlling idea shows the direction the paragraph will take. Example sentence: compelling writing of compositions requires certain characteristics. The topic is “effective writing of compositions” and the controlling idea is certain characteristics. To summarize, paragraphs are introduced by topic sentences which are comparable to a catchy tune.

The use of active voice generates positive impact, robust dynamics and an elegant flow of sentences and paragraphs. Active sentences contain an active subject. The subject is doing the action. A straightforward example is the following sentence, “The king loves the queen.” The king is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves the queen, the object of the sentence. An active voice makes it clear who is doing what, it sings in forte or piano.

Strunk models the treatment of paragraphs, topic sentences, and the importance of active voice in writing direct and concise sentences as key in clear and logical writing. Without proper scaffolding and interlocking sequences, writing is prone to lose its focus and thrust.

In conclusion, actively voiced paragraphs and topic sentences are the basic foundations of engaging and thought-provoking writing just as musical compositions use the building blocks of harmony, melody and dynamics to create transcendent symphonies.

Author: drcowinj

I am the Chief Marketing Officer for a start-up IT company, PeopleMovers®, a global Community Networking Platform. As an experienced executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and development, change management and turn-around I worked with value-adding leadership. The primary drivers have been branding, marketing and efficiency, improved customer satisfaction and retainment, customer service, product management, cross-functional business improvements and development of sponsor presentations with sponsor meetings. On a day to day basis, I write press releases and speeches, analyze case studies, create presentations, organize media events and photo ops, press conferences, podcasts/webcasts, write video scripts, fan boards, and coordinate blogging and speaking opportunities. The Presidency of the Rotary Club of New York is dear to my heart. As the second woman to be elected in 109 years, I have a leadership role in shaping and directing the club's programs and international strategic alliances. The position encompasses being a leader, manager, and collaborator and working to further The Rotary Club of New York’s (RCNY) public diplomacy mission through the management of its United Nations International Breakfast meetings, sponsoring international Rotary scholars and amplifying the visibility of RCNY. Part of this volunteer leadership position centers around cooperation and collaboration to do "Service above Self." The Rotary network encompasses more than 1.3 million members worldwide. I am working on our International Breakfast Lecture series at the United Nations and a Harvey Relief event to increase the visibility of the club’s Rotary branding. The International Breakfast Series is streamed live on Facebook with an audience of 5000+ international viewers. Also, I am the US Ambassador of the Hepatitis Zero Campaign, a worldwide campaign dedicated to the eradication of hepatitis . As a University Pathway facilitator at EF - Education First, I conceived, designed and developed multiple portfolios of face-to-face, online and blended curricula across a variety of disciplines Courses and expertise are in Global Economics, International Affairs, Academic Writing, Grammar, and business case study seminars. For EF's Russian branch I held interactive webinars for lawyers, teachers, engineers with a strong practical applicability into real-life teaching.

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