The other day I got an email press release from a technology company crowing about a partnership with another organization. It read, in part: "We believe the alliance between xxx and yyy represents a synergistic win-win with significant value add for both solutions, allowing each to utilize and leverage their unique strengths in the market."
Huh? If the news was worth covering, I couldn't tell, because the press release was stuffed to the seams with jargon-filled corporate-speak. I deleted the email almost immediately, sat back in my desk chair, and thought about EB White.
EB White was, of course, the author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. But he was also the co-author, with William Strunk Jr., of The Elements of Style. Actually, in 1959, White edited and updated Strunk's Elements, originally published in 1918. (Strunk had been one of White's professors at Cornell.)
But anyway, The Elements of Style is a sort of classic playbook for writers, and you'll find it in full view on the bookshelves or desks of most writers in the way that—as the writer Richard Ford has said—you'll find the Gideons bible in most hotel rooms, as a beacon to the hapless: "In case your reckless ways should strand you here, there's help."
The Elements of Style doesn't teach anyone how to write. But it does school you about critical fundamentals of the art and science of writing: Clarity. Brevity. Boldness. EB White has been dead for almost 25 years, and it's been 50 years since his version of the Elements first hit the streets, yet the book is more relevant than ever.
And maybe more so. In a newly social world—ostensibly marked by an allegiance to authenticity, and engagement, and trust, and personality, and all that—White's message aptly applies to businesses and how they approaches their marketing and communications. What's more, in an online world where everyone and anyone is able to produce content cheaply and efficiently, you had better be sure that your own stuff is up to snuff. Otherwise, you—and your company—will be easily ignored.
In other words, when you are trying to engage your intended audience, you need to create something that they first can understand. Better yet, you need to create content that's compelling. Something people want to read, or watch, or listen to, or interact with, or otherwise consume. You want them to find it remarkable, even. You want them to love it so much that they'll pass it around, and share it with friends and contacts on the various social media platforms.
I'm guessing EB White couldn't imagine that something like Twitter would one day buttress his rationale for good, clear, interesting writing. But yet, almost 25 years later, it does.
Of course, if I hadn't read The Elements of Style when I was an underclassman at Simmons College, I might be telling you that EB White would inspire "best-of-breed thought leadership that will help your customers and clients track to true north."
And, by the way, a special 50th anniversary edition of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White was recently published. Same book, but elegantly bound. Check it out: The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition
Ann Handley is an 11-year veteran of creating and managing digital content to build relationships for organizations and individuals. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs.com which provides strategic and tactical marketing know-how for marketing and business professionals, through a full range of online media and live events. She also blogs at her acclaimed personal web log.
Photo credit: mpclemens