Does anyone know if there is a contemporary book that explores style in a similar way to The Reader Over Your Shoulder?

  • 3
    Requests for resources are better on our meta site, but I can't tell if this is a question about an English language and usage resource based on the paucity of information in your question.
    – livresque
    Feb 4 at 3:18
  • Better on meta.
    – Robusto
    Feb 4 at 3:49
  • 1
    Thanks for this question, maybe I will read Graves's book now! Feb 4 at 6:16
  • 3
    How does The Reader over your Shoulder explore style? (Also: its author's name and date of publication would be another great addition to the question.) People may not be familiar with that particular book, but may be able to suggest another they have read based on your description of it.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Feb 4 at 9:40
  • You may want to try over at Writing if you are interested more about style questions in fiction.
    – Mitch
    Feb 5 at 16:45
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    @Mitch There's nothing so based on opinion as all that stuff on that site, she guffawed. Which in my book is fine.
    – Lambie
    Mar 22 at 14:18

1 Answer 1


The best source for exploring style in a similar manner to Graves' work is that work itself, The Reader Over Your Shoulder. It is very understandable by a modern audience and, while dated, still can be applied depending on audience.

The three most popular style guides nowadays for English are:

  • Strunk and White, The Elements of Style
  • Fowler, Modern English Usage
  • Zinsser, On Writing Well

Strunk and White is very popular among people not accustomed to writing - it helps intermediate writers clean up a lot of problems early in an academic career. It has become somewhat controversial because of its questionable claims about many style points, pointedly the passive voice. In short, it mischaracterizes the passive grammatically, and when it does get the grammar right, it often uses the passive in complaining about it.

Fowler makes style recommendations that are supposedly more descriptive ('this is how good writers tend to do it') rather than prescriptive ('just do it this way'), but nowadays the tendencies he gives might look a bit old-fashioned or formal and too reminiscent of arbitrary prescriptive rules.

(note that Strunk and White primarily use American English, and Fowler British English but the primary difference at the level of formality they both follow shows itself mostly in just spelling).

Zinsser is more recent than either, if the 1970's can be called recent. The other two were, in origination, from the early 1900's even if updated over the century. Zinsser is more of a narrative about writing rather than a point by point reference like the other two.

There are of course some common suggestions: be clear, concise, consistent, avoid jargon, avoid ambiguity, avoid clich├ęs. Orwell, in the essay 'Politics and the English Language', adds that the writer should go against these suggestions if it makes things better.

These three, among many, are guides about how to write non-fiction. If you are looking for a guide on how to write fiction, there are surely numerous ones (Stephen King wrote one, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft).

And to distinguish even more, there's style and there's style. The suggestions so far are not about rules but about preferred choices of how to combine words. In contrast, there are numerous 'style guides' by media sources, for example the Chicago Manual of Style, where what is meant by style is actual rules for things like punctuation and titles and grammar and what to call things (and what words must or cannot be used) all to ensure standardization and public acceptability.

Wikipedia has a list of style guides for English which covers all these possibilities but not necessarily comprehensively.

I forgot to mention Stephen Pinker's 2014 book 'The Sense of Style'. Pinker is a cognitive scientist (child language learning, psychology) and popular science writer. He has written a number of general audience books on cognition. I'm not sure where it stands on acceptability by the writer's community - it is much more recent and I don't have a good feeling for if writers would suggest it. But from its description it seems like it addresses style at the level of the impact on the reader rather than whether to use passives or serial commas.

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