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On Writing Well by William Zinsser
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On Writing Well (1976)

by William Zinsser

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Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
From my Cannonball Read 6 review ...

I love participating in Cannonball Read for a few reasons. I didn’t know AlabamaPink, but I followed her on Pajiba and am happy to support fundraising in her name. I love that CBR motivates me to pick up a book instead of a video game or magazine, and I know I wouldn’t have read nearly as many (mostly good) books in the last 18 months without it. But one benefit I didn’t fully understand until recently is that CBR gives me the chance to improve my non-fiction writing on a weekly basis. This latest read has been particularly useful with that goal.

My husband read ‘On Writing Well’ and thought I’d enjoy it. It bodes well for a book that aspires to be a guide to writing nonfiction that it is so easy to read. Mr. Zinsser wrote the first edition of this book in 1976, but has updated it many times, most recently about eight years ago. It is well-organized, fun to read, and most importantly filled with fantastic advice, as my notebook filled with quotes from it confirms.

A few of Mr. Zinsser’s suggestions are obvious, but that doesn’t mean most people actually follow them. One thing he pushes for repeatedly is to take a stand and remove the passive voice. Until graduate school many of my instructors required that I write in the passive voice; thankfully that changed but I still find myself having to work at using my voice in my writing, especially at work. I don’t think I’m alone in that, and it’s nice to get some advice on being even stronger with my word choice.

But there’s so much more in this book than Mr. Zinsser’s enthusiasm for active sentences. He provides great examples to support his point that we should be crafting sentences, paragraphs and pieces that readers want to read. We shouldn’t be looking for the longest synonym or the most clauses in a sentence; we should tell the story in a way that works for us. He offers great advice to get us there; a few of my favorites are:
• “What do your readers want to know next? Ask yourself that question after every sentence.”
• “Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose.”
• “Most adverbs and adjectives are unnecessary.”
• “Clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity.”

Unfortunately, while Mr. Zinsser understands and reinforces the power of language, he seems to only allow that power in so far as he agrees with it. He mentions that he used to use ‘he’ as his generic pronoun, but feminists convinced him that such usage was sexist, and so he changed his style. He saw that not using a gender-neutral form whenever possible reinforced the idea that male is the default, and female the anomaly. But in other areas he suggests that being careful with language is just ‘political correctness’ and dismisses it. The specific example he uses – expressing his distaste for the term undocumented resident and preference for the term illegal alien – shows that he still chooses his words based on his political inclination. He sees the error in his ways on gender, but apparently not yet on nationality. That is disappointing.

Despite that one (important) area where Mr. Zinsser and I disagree, I know that much of what he wrote is solid advice. Hopefully as I incorporate his suggestions my writing – for Cannonball Read, for work, and for my own blog – will improve. Or, I should say, I will improve my writing. ( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 9, 2017 |
“Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.”
– E.B. White

“Writing is the geometry of the soul.”
– Plato

In On Writing Well – The Classic Guide To Nonfiction, William Zinsser writes an easy-to-follow no-nonsense approach into the core essentials of writing.

Providing a smattering of meticulous examples, On Writing Well does a lucid job of clearing up some of the confusion writers might have about style, methods, leads, endings, et al., while setting the foundation for a stronger individual repertoire.

In fact, regarding this, Zinsser speaks about the importance of everyone to have good writing skills given today’s newfound environment where a lot of communication takes place through the emails, the internet and so on. This is crucial since most of us employ the tool of writing in a daily fashion. Zinsser urges individuals to seek to sharpen their skill set in order to become better communicators simply by employing tenets in this book.

As hinted to before, Zinsser also make incisive use of many salient examples throughout the book by breaking them down and suggesting some writing tips in cogent fashion. Within these examples the author covers people, places, science and technology, writing within a job, writing about sports, and more.

Broken down into four parts, the book covers [1] Principles, where notions such as clutter and style are covered, [2] Methods, where leads and endings are covered, [3] Forms, where various forms of nonfiction are explored at length and [4] Attitudes within writing, which is self explanatory. All parts offer ample insights, many of which would be useful to nigh all individuals nowadays, especially if you have to write anything on a daily basis, whether it is emails, memos, etc. and are new to writing.

To accomplish sound things in life, one needs an ironclad scaffolding upon which to set oneself in. Writing well is no different. The insights provided by this book will help those that employ them. Couple the tenets in this book with those of those within The Elements of Style, and one has the recipe for success. Both have helped me quite a bit, as I hope they help you. ( )
  ZyPhReX | May 30, 2017 |
Easily the best book on craft that I've read. It's definitely a nonfiction guide, but it covers a wide variety of subgenres and would be helpful for anyone who communicates with the written word... so yeah, that includes you. The book will rest on my bookshelf in a deserved spot in between The Elements of Style and The Little, Brown Handbook. ( )
  StefanieBrookTrout | Feb 4, 2017 |
Currently using this to supplement my textbook for my English Composition & Rhetoric course for school. Depending on how much I read, I will try my best to write a full review.
  RyanLGrooms | Jul 27, 2016 |
The subtitle of this book is "The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction." Do not ignore this book if you are not a professional writer. This book is about clearly communicating ideas whether in email, presentations, or conversation. The book has echoes of the classic guide The Elements of Style ("Be concise") but it is not a grammar book. Wise choice of words, tense, and proper use of grammar become the tools for explaining ideas. Revisit it often to improve your communication skills. ( )
  RhodesDavis | Jul 1, 2016 |
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One of the pictures hanging in my office in mid-Manhattan is a photograph of the writer E. B. White.
A school in Connecticut once held "a day devoted to the arts," and I was asked if I would come and talk about writing as a vocation.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060891548, Paperback)

On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet.

Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental priciples as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:29 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Warns against common errors in structure, style, and diction, and explains the fundamentals of conducting interviews and writing travel, scientific, sports, critical, and humorous articles.

» see all 3 descriptions

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