Elementary Principles of Composition

  1. Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
    The first principle of of composition, therefore, is to foresee or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape.
  2. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
    The paragraph is a convenient unit; it serves all forms of literary work. As long as it holds together, a paragraph may be of any length - a single, short sentence or a passage of great duration.
  3. Use the active voice.
    The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive:

    I shall always remeber my first visit to Boston.
  4. Put statements in positive form.
    Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language. Use the work 'not' as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

    He usually came late.
  5. Use definite, specific, concrete language.
    Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.

    It rained every day for a week.
  6. Omit needless words.
    wrong = The question as to whether

    correct = whether
  7. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
    This rule refers especially to loose sentences of a particular type: those consisting of two clauses, the second introduced by a conjunction or relative.
  8. Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
    This principle, that of parallel construction, requires that expressions similar in content and function be outwardly similar. The likeness of form enables the reader to recognize more readily the likeness of content and function.

    Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
  9. Keep related words together.
    The position of the words in a sentence is the principal means of showing their relationship. Confusion and ambiguity result when words are badly placed. The writer must, therefore, bring together the words and groups of words that are related in thought and keep apart those that are not so related.

    Wrong = He noticed a large stain in the rug that was right in the center.

    Correct = He noticed a large stain right in the center of the rug.
  10. In summaries, keep to one tense.
    In summarizing the action of a drama, use the present tense. In summarizing a poem, story, or novel, also use the present, though you may use the past if it seems more natural to do so.
  11. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.
    The proper place in the sentence for the word or group of words that the writer desires to make most prominent is usually at the end.

    Wrong = This steel is principally used for making razors, because of its hardness.

    Correct = Because of its hardness, this steel is used principally for making razors.
Card Set
Elementary Principles of Composition
Elementary Principles of Composition