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328.1 Elements of Style Remake (see The SSEOS: An Example)

"Good prose does not come from a one-time inoculation" (14). - Richard Lanham, Style: An Anti-textbook

The Assignment
Project One invites you to remake Strunk and White's well-known The Elements of Style by recontextualizing selected composing principles in relation to a pop culture "text" of your choice. Doing this well will require you to understand selected principles from The Elements of Style and to apply those principles to other samples of writing. The project is inspired in part by Derek Pell's Marquis de Sade's Elements of Style, a small book that parodies Strunk and White by using de Sade's risqué writing to ridicule, comment upon, and in cases radically transform Strunk and White's handbook. To prepare for this assignment, we will read and discuss The Elements of Style, look at selections from Pell's work, and try it out with a few examples of our own in class.

Derek Pell Cover PageIn effect, we are pursuing a richer sense of Strunk and White's maxims to contemplate just how adequate they are for a greatly expanded sampling of contemporary language contexts, including those increasingly circulating online. By creating an encounter between Strunk and White and some pop culture "text" of your choosing, you will establish a framework for the self-conscious examination of style. The point of fusion where Strunk and White and your pop culture text meet ought to be prime for parody, for play, and for explorations of style that restate or otherwise extend and implicitly critique principles established in The Elements of Style. This is another way of saying that you are being urged to produce a project that productively counters the style-in-a-vacuum Richard Lanham describes when he calls for writers to produce prose illustrative of the ways style can be "a pleasure, a grace, a joy, a delight" (28).

As you read The Elements of Style, you will notice that E.B. White describes William Strunk, Jr. in a variety of ways—as friendly and funny, as positive, as whimsical, as inflexible and choosy. We can almost imagine Strunk as someone who would be flattered by Pell's careful remake of the "little book." Keep this in mind as you proceed: you are welcome to involve as much or as little parody as you like. Yet, perhaps what works best about Pell's parody is its sharp contrast with Strunk and White's style.

Your remake should follow the organizational lead of The Elements of Style. That is, you must adapt something from each of the five sections of the book, having sections that correspond to 1. Elementary Rules of Usage, II. Elementary Principles of Composition, III. A Few Matters of Form, IV. Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and V. An Approach to Style. Many of your examples will come directly from your pop culture "text." But you are also allowed to modify them as needed. In other words, you might need to retro-fit the examples to align with some section from Strunk and White. You will also notice that Pell relies heavily on images. You are welcome to incorporate images, but you are under no obligation to do so. If you do so, please make choices with a sensitivity to the effectiveness and relevance of the images to your textual examples.

Assignment Details
The project should be a minimum of 1200 words. Typeface, line spacing, and the formatting of subheadings should be deliberate, but you have some flexibility in adapting these features of the document to fit with your aims. A full draft of the project is due on Monday, February 1. Bring a paper copy to class on the 1st for peer response. The completed project is due on Wednesday, February 3. Submit your work no later than the start of class on Feb. 3 by uploading it to the Dropbox available in EMU Online. Include an appropriate title for your project (see below).

Your remake will begin with a scene-establishing introduction. That is, you will write an introductory section that establishes a context for the remake. You can setup the remake by establishing a situation as absurd or as realistic as you wish. In either case, the writing should be carefully done and it should function as a segue into the rules and examples further along in the project.

Explanatory Asides and Commentary
Your rule and examples will, in some cases, match up nicely with Strunk and White's and at other times, they will break from convention and, often, parody Strunk and White. You will get a better feel for this as you read The Elements of Style. As you proceed, remember that each principle and example is likely going to require some explanatory note, something like a gloss or footnote that discusses what the principle and example help us understand about style as it is situated in time, place, genre, and social context.

Develop a catchy title that explicitly establishes the tie between your pop culture text and The Elements of Style. Notice that the title page of Pell's book (above right) positions Pell as a translator, and includes other parodic asides.

Evaluation Criteria

Project 1 will be evaluated according to the following five criteria:
1. Reflects a command of selected principles from EOS, as established by the application of identifiable maxims from Strunk and White to selections from some pop culture "text" (audience and purpose; pop culture text suited to this application)
2. Development (the project is complete, fully developed; all aspects, including required length and a catchy title, are available)
3. Illustrative examples (concrete examples, vivid language; examples accompany convincing explanations)
4. Visual effectiveness (look and design of page; margins, typeface, layout, and image resolution, if applicable)
5. Accuracy (concerning mistakes or errors)

Each criterion listed above will be evaluated on the following scale:


EX: Exceptional. The writer has applied the criterion with distinction.
AC: Acceptable/meets expectations. The writer has applied the criterion to a satisfactory degree.
NI: Needs improvement. The writer has minimally applied the criterion in the project.
NA: Not applied. The writer has not applied the criterion in the project.

Contact Information

Derek N. Mueller, PhD
Office: 612M Pray-Harrold
Winter 2010 office hours: MW, 10-11 a.m., Tu., 9-Noon, and by appointment
Phone: (315) 708-3940 (cell)


"Neither The Elements of Style nor any other style book can be the definitive text on writing in every genre or media." —ENGL328 student, Fall 2009

"We concentrate on utility at the expense of joie de vivre. And we then wonder, as de Tocqueville prophesied we would, why life has lost its savor" (19). —Richard Lanham, Style: An Anti-textbook

"Let us collectively raise the level of discourse online. What starts as a relentless tide of simple-minded chatter resembles the most perfect wave of literary turbulence under the right conditions" (89). —Dom Sagolla, 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form

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