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The Elephants of Style: 05/05/09
I picked up The Elephants of Style by Bill Walsh because I liked the title, a silly little pun on 0205313426 target="_blank">The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White (1957). The book promises a "trunkload of tips on the big issues and gray areas of contemporary American English."
The book has fourteen elephants covering key points of writing and editing. Walsh starts out with the basic reminder that most modern-day writers probably aren't writing on a typewriter. With word processors it is no longer necessary or desirable to leave two spaces after a period. If you write or blog for the web you'll know that web browsers don't render any extra spaces after the first one unless it's hard coded as a non-breaking space.
From the typewriter advice, Walsh moves onto spelling (and common errors), capitalization, abbreviations, problem pairs (picking the right word), word agreement, plurals and possessives, numbers, punctuation, quibbles about style, plagiarism and finally editing. The Elephants of Style is a good starting point for writing well in American English. It won't make your writing perfect. Walsh also reiterates a number of times that writers should double check his advice against their companies' style guides.
For the most part I enjoyed The Elephants of Style but I think the advice on writing for the web feels dated. I realize that back in the early days of commercialization of the internet, the phrase World Wide Web was coined (that's the www that shows up on most URLs) but the capitalization of "Web" in web site (or more preferable website) or web page (or webpage) stinks of marketing. Techies tend to write the terms as website or webpage and marketing folks tend to go for Web site and Web page.
Now for URLs, if you're writing on the web, don't spell out the URL. Instead, spell out the name of the page and then link to it. Your reader, if interested, will click on it. If you are writing for print, it still looks nicer to have the site's name spelled out (so Yahoo instead of www.yahoo.com). If you want to include the URL, please include it as a footnote or endnote.