You might wonder what an English language style guide from 1918 is doing in a software engineering blog. You might even get angry at me for pointing this book in your face. But I have a strong affection towards this guide; I believe everyone who has to write more than a sentence in English should read it. I like to emphasize the communication aspects of a software engineering career as much as coding or management skills.

English is not my native language, and I often struggle with the writing style. I found a number of style tips online and in the books I read, but lately I noticed a pattern: most of those tips referenced “The Elements Of Style”. The book is available online free of charge (copyright has expired; it is now in public domain) and takes only an evening to read.

What the book gives you is invaluable writing advice. The author provides concrete style rules targeted at increasing the appeal and comprehension rates of your text. Here’s my favorite piece of advice:

13. Omit needless words.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell.

The Elements Of Style” is a timeless classic; it should be mandatory reading for every speaker or learner of English out there. I immediately applied the rules to technical documentation, email communication, and even this very blog entry. I will probably have to read through the guide multiple times over the course of the following months in order to ensure maximum retention. If you care about being understood by another human being, you should read it too.