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Elegant and Effective Writing

At the moment of writing, as well as at the moment of reading the written piece, a trained ear will notice that the sentences are alive, they are waiting in the shadow both to be sent across to the reader as well as to be deciphered according to the reader’s background and perspective. In this sense, the characteristics of ‘elegant and effective writing’ are largely a matter of personal taste, in one word they are subjective.

To be effective in his/her writing, an author needs to anticipate, shape and satisfy a reader’s need for information. If a writer can choose words that convey more information in her sentences, we can perceive that writer as more effective than one that conveys less. The same can be said of sentences that bring ideas and images into clearer focus by adding more useful details and explanations – they tend to be perceived as more effective than those sentences that are less focussed and offer fewer details.

Effective writing is largely determined by how well the writer’s efforts respond to the situation that occasioned the writing, to the writer’s purpose in writing, and to the reader’s needs.

Elegant writing is more difficult to define on the other hand. Some stylists, like Strunk and White, followed by H. W. Fowler in his ‘Modern English Usage’ textbook have mentioned an author’s tendency to “express themselves prettily” rather than “conveying meaning clearly” as being the sign for elegance and this has indeed been the trend in prose during certain literary periods like for example romanticism.

Contemporary literary elegance though can be compared with the elegant solution to a problem in maths, where elegant solutions are the most direct route to solving a problem, taking the fewest number of steps. In writing as well, elegance is indeed a matter of efficiency, but the problems a writer attempts to solve have an emotional or affective dimension not generally associated with a fixed result, like in mathematics.

To deeper understand the fluidity of elegance and efficiency in writing, it would be sufficient for you to pick the opening sentence from a newspaper or magazine article and rewrite it in a completely different style — try making it bare and spare, like Hemingway, or formal and ceremonious, or lushly descriptive, or more emotional.

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