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Clear and Simple as the Truth:
Writing Classic Prose
Second Edition
Francis-Noël Thomas & Mark Turner

Winner of the 1996 Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la littérature françaises, Académie française

Paperback | 2011 | $28.95 | £23.95 | ISBN: 9780691147437
272 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 1 line illus.
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For more than a decade, Clear and Simple as the Truth has guided readers to consider style not as an elegant accessory of effective prose but as its very heart. Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner present writing as an intellectual activity, not a passive application of verbal skills. In classic style, the motive is truth, the purpose is presentation, the reader and writer are intellectual equals, and the occasion is informal. This general style of presentation is at home everywhere, from business memos to personal letters and from magazine articles to student essays. Everyone talks about style, but no one explains it. The authors of this book do; and in doing so, they provoke the reader to consider style, not as an elegant accessory of effective prose, but as its very heart.

At a time when writing skills have virtually disappeared, what can be done? If only people learned the principles of verbal correctness, the essential rules, wouldn't good prose simply fall into place? Thomas and Turner say no. Attending to rules of grammar, sense, and sentence structure will no more lead to effective prose than knowing the mechanics of a golf swing will lead to a hole-in-one. Furthermore, ten-step programs to better writing exacerbate the problem by failing to recognize, as Thomas and Turner point out, that there are many styles with different standards.

The book is divided into four parts. The first, "Principles of Classic Style," defines the style and contrasts it with a number of others. "The Museum" is a guided tour through examples of writing, both exquisite and execrable. "The Studio," new to this edition, presents a series of structured exercises. Finally, "Further Readings in Classic Prose" offers a list of additional examples drawn from a range of times, places, and subjects. A companion website,, offers supplementary examples, exhibits, and commentary, and features a selection of pieces written by students in courses that used Clear and Simple as the Truth as a textbook.


"Their model of 'classic prose' . . . elegantly captures the differences between vigorous and turgid writing."--Steven Pinker, New York Times Book Review

"[I]n the hands of a good instructor and students who have a solid foundation in writing, the book could be quite empowering."--Choice

"[T]his book has value for the technical communicator who has an interest in style, and teachers who teach style in their classes. Thomas and Turner are right about the current crop of books that essentially ignore this way of writing, and their discussion of styles can be valuable to a fuller understanding of the relationship between thought and dress."--Tom Warren, Technical Communication

Praise for the first edition: "Whether they can spark a revival in classic writing is uncertain, but Thomas and Turner serve their topic well. A good choice for the serious stylist and those learning the craft."--Library Journal

Praise for the first edition: "Thomas and Turner engagingly delineate the attributes of a classic style of writing. . . . In the second half, Thomas and Turner cite examples of classic style in excerpts from the writing of well-known literary figures."--Booklist

Praise for the first edition: "Every once in a while a book comes along with the power to alter permanently the view of a subject you thought you knew well. For me this year, that book is Clear and Simple as the Truth."--Denis Dutton, Philosophy and Literature

Praise for the first edition: "[For] the mature student, this is indeed a classic. For the connoisseur, it is indispensable."--Thomas D'Evelyn, Boston Book Review

Praise for the first edition: "An acclaimed new reference manual."--The Chicago Sun Times


Praise for the first edition: "[Clear and Simple as the Truth] has changed the way that I write and think about writing."--Paul Bloom, Yale University

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments vii
Clear and Simple as the Truth 1
Chapter One: Principles of Classic Style 5
The Concept of Style 7
Recognizing Classic Style 12
The Elements of Style 17
The Classic Stand on the Elements of Style 24
Truth 24
Presentation 32
Scene 37
Cast 45
Thought and Language 57
Other Stands, Other Styles 66
Trade Secrets 97
Envoi: Style Is Not Etiquette 10
Chapter Two: The Museum 107
Chapter Three: The Studio 187
Introduction 189
Fundamentals: Talk First 189
Fundamentals: Write Second 212
Advanced Writing 215
Conclusion 227
Chapter Four: Further Readings in Classic Prose 229
Notes 239
Index 253

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Mark Turner:

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Francis-Noël Thomas:

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