Strunk & White vs. Williams: An Error-off

October 6, 2010 

For class we read portions of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and we also read Joseph William’s article “The Phenomenology of Error.”  Then we staged a little debate in class.  Here, we’ll posted what we think each would say to the other– some will post what they think Williams should learn from Strunk & White; others will post what they think Strunk & White should learn from Williams.




13 Responses to “Strunk & White vs. Williams: An Error-off”

  1. Mr. Williams,

    We believe it is crucial for the writer to write for purpose before writing for perfection. It is important to write honestly, passionately, and freely and then to revise and correct form, grammatics, style, and sentence structure. If one begins a writing piece scrutinizing for errors, he will not fully grasp his subject. We revere the gramatics of literature just as much as you, but believe it is important to guide the writer into what is most often used and what is most useful- rather than pin point every detail. We believe our writing guide to be more practical and enjoyable for the writer, which in turn will create a better writing process for those who read it.

    Bottom line, loosen your tie.

    -Strunk & White

    • Jamar Moore said

      Dear Mr. Williams,
      Although I appreciate and respect your views on grammatical error, I also feel that you are thinking too technically, and not enough with your heart. Sometimes you have to let your mind flow, and worry about whatever happens later. The best work is brought forth, when it is not thought out, but brought out. Meaning you can have the most punctually correct paper,and still have nothing. The key to greatness is taking a risk, and saying “what the hell” every once in a while. Come to my side and think freely, you’ll love it.

      Strunk & White

  2. W said

    Dear Strunk and White,

    Where do you get off talking trash? I nearly sprayed milk out of my nose when I heard what you were saying about writing and making “errors” in the process. I have far more important things to be doing right now (like writing a paper) than having to stop and set you straight on a few things! First of all, what’s up with you using a handbook? Did you not pay attention in English class when you were in middle school? If you’re going to be so constrictive when you’re writing, you’re going to take all of the fun out of it! Secondly, when it comes to making errors in writing, it’s not just black or white; there’s this thing that is commonly referred to as “the grey area.” So loosen up a little bit, let your hair down, and write from within – life’s too short! If you still don’t get what I’m saying, I would like to refer you to something that you obviously need; it’s called a Punnett square and it will really save your ass. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know, so I can stop what I’m doing – again – and break you off a little more knowledge.


    Jo Willy

  3. connors23 said

    Dear Strunk & White,

    You seem to be under the misconception that in order to write accurately you need to follow the handbook down to the very last point, but in reality you couldn’t be more wrong. By doing this, all you are doing is writing, you are not experiencing, which is pointless because writing is supposed to be about creativity and diving into something with all you have. In order to write with all you have you need to let loose, disregard all the rules, and just have fun. There is no specific way to write, you just write to your greatest ability and let the reader take it from there. Writing is not a black and white area; its grey, you write with all your heart and try to get the message out the best way you feel possible, and then you leave it to the reader to go from there.


  4. Abby said

    Dear Strunk and White,

    First off you need realize that not everything can be avoided by reading a handbook. Errors are little entities that are not meant to distract readers from the bigger picture. Strunk and White focus too much with what is wrong with a piece of work rather than enjoying the it. Williams allows the writer to enjoy writing. Rules are made to be broken and it is interesting because in your handbook, Strunk and White, you made errors. Everything is not so black and white. There is more to writing than no errors. Writing is supposed to have a purpose and the writer should be consumed with passion and knowledge. Also the will to share their writing with everyone in the word. Sorry that you are so uptight!


  5. ctrehan16 said

    Dear Williams,

    Our book is entitled “The Elements of Style” not “Grammatical Errors for Elitist Snobs” like you seem to think. Our goal is to provide readers with a sense of how they can better improve their writing rather than simply highlighting the flaws present throughout their words. After pointing out an “error” in my writing in your piece entitled “The Phenomenology of Error” you write, “Now I want to be clear: I am not at all interested in the trivial fact that E.B.White violated one or two of his own trivial rules. That would be a trivial observation.” Intentionally stating that you do not want to point out the triviality of my “rules” ironically shows your interest in pointing it out-nice try though. Also, I think that you could do with using the word “trivial” again in that sentence.

    E.B. White.

  6. Morgan Shepard said

    Dear Williams,

    In your analysis of my book “The Elements of Style” you critique Mr. Stunk and I for our use of rules and guidelines, and bring up the point that we break some of the very rules we state in the book. I must concede, you are correct in pointing out my error in “Death of the Pig.” I did state in “The Elements of Style” that removing “whiches” when possible can improve an author’s writing, and then, of course, I went off and did it. However, I’d like to point out to you, an alternative section in my piece that perhaps will provide clarity to you about why I do not feel that “The Elements of Style” is necessarily a book to live by, as it is a bunch of guidelines. “There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rule by which the young writer may shape his course.” (59)

    It appears the real “phenomenon of error” sir, is in your own inability to completely read my work.

    -E.B. White

  7. Mr Williams,
    Constricting your readers to a single set of guidelines teaching how to correct themselves would be so much easier if you just taught them how to write properly in the first place. Like us: Not to sound conceited of course. We are just trying to help you out and swap scholarly wisdom. While we know that our methods are strait-laced as well, we think that you and your readers could benefit from some “think before you write advice”. Errors need not be corrected if there are no corrections to make because your writing is so sanitary from error. However optimistic this may sound, we also know that there is no such thing as error-free writing. So your rules are profitable in the end. Keep up the good work teaching writers to correct, and we will keep teaching them to purify their writing from the beginning. Between the two of us(technically three), we can keep writers in line and teach them clean and consistent writing techniques.
    Strunk and White

  8. Katie Ackerman said

    Dear Strunk and White,

    Alright guys, out with ’em; remove those sticks from your asses! What’s with all the rules? Many of your paragraphs started with “As a rule this” and “As a rule that.” You guys are taking the fun out of writing with all of your “rules.” How will a writer’s creativity ever have the chance to shine through when they have all of these rules to abide by? You need to just give it up and give writers the chance to write what they feel so that their message can be properly conveyed to their audience. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how eloquent a writer can sound when they buck your writing system.

    So, as a rule, loosen up.


  9. sevbray said

    Dear Mr. Williams,

    It has come to my attention that you may be taking certain things in your essay a bit too seriously. You see, you could learn something from the handbook that my colleague and I had put together. Sometimes it’s easier to learn how to write properly first so that you don’t need to look for the errors later on, after the writing is finished. Is it not more efficient to try to create superior writers? Perhaps if you looked in my handbook, you could learn a thing or two. Also, just like the brilliant WEPO class said, you can’t break the rules until you know them.

    Strunk & White

  10. Tara said

    Mr. Williams,

    Everyone has their own writing style. That’s what makes them writers. If there was nothing unique about a book or a poem, it’d never get published. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and from your writings, I know you do too. But as I mentioned earlier in our debate, you must learn the rules before you can break them. Like in that pirate movie – they’re more of guidelines. That is what the guidebook is for – it enables writers to learn the standards of writing, and then enables them to decide if they wish to follow them or break them.

    Thank you for your time,

    Strunk & White

  11. Sloan said

    Strunk & White,
    My main arguement against yours is that if there are errors within your writing and the reader is able to look over those and still understand what your point is, then well they are not really errors afterall. It is important to be clear, and write with a specific purpose. If you have errors that distract the reader from your purpose then you have failed. However, if they exist and don’t take attention away from the topic at hand, then it doesn’t really matter.

  12. Keyla Cherena said

    Dear Strunk & White,

    When we were in elementary school we were taught about the five paragraph essay. As you grow older they tell you “don’t do that” that what you learned the prior year was no long applicable. And as writers we understand that all of the rules that we’ve learned previously can be broken. Your handbook “Elementary Principles of Composition” is archaic and taking us back to elementary school.

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