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Writing To Learn Paperback – June 4, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0062720405 ISBN-10: 0062720406
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Using numerous examples of clear, stylish writing from a broad range of disciplines, and adding the warmth of his personal experiences, Zinsser makes a strong case for his claim that writing about a field of knowledge is the best way to immerse oneself in it and to make it one's own. Three guiding principles emergeaccuracy, brevity, and clarityand, Zinsser argues, writers who keep them in mind will avoid much of the misunderstanding that results from bad writing. Zinnser has particularly harsh words for what he calls "corporation-speak," the incomprehensible nonsense that invades many professional publications. His reference, whose title so accurately sums up its philosophy, should become a standard for those who care about good writing.Terry Skeats, Bishop's Univ. Lib., Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An elegant exposition of the thesis that to write is to learn...in the tradition of Strunk and White, a model in its own right." -- Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 4, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062720406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062720405
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Zinsser, a writer, editor, and teacher, is a fourth-generation New Yorker, born in 1922. His 18 books, which range in subject from music to baseball to American travel, include several widely read books about writing.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, first published in 1976, has sold almost 1.5 million copies to three generations of writers, editors, journalists, teachers and students.

Writing to Learn which uses examples of good writing in science, medicine and technology to demonstrate that writing is a powerful component of learning in every subject.

Writing Places, a memoir recalling the enjoyment and gratitude the places where William Zinsser has done his writing and his teaching and the unusual people he encountered on that life journey.

Mr. Zinsser began his career in 1946 at the New York Herald Tribune, where he was a writer, editor, and critic. In 1959 he left to become a freelance writer and has since written regularly for leading magazines. From 1968 to 1972 he was a columnist for Life. During the 1970s he was at Yale, where, besides teaching nonfiction writing and humor writing, he was master of Branford College. In 1979 he returned to New York and was a senior editor at the Book-of-the-Month Club until 1987, when he went back to freelance writing. He teaches at the New School and at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is an adviser on writing to schools, colleges, and other organizations. He holds honorary degrees from Wesleyan University, Rollins College, and the University of Southern Indian and is a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library.

William Zinsser's other books include Mitchell & Ruff, a profile of jazz musicians Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff; American Places, a pilgrimage to 16 iconic American sites; Spring Training, about the spring training camp of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1988; and Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs; and he is the Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. A jazz pianist and songwriter, he wrote a musical revue, What's the Point, which was performed off Broadway in 2003.

Mr. Zinsser lives in his home town with his wife, the educator and historian Caroline Zinsser. They have two children, Amy Zinsser, a business executive, and John Zinsser, a painter and teacher.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A. Wolverton VINE VOICE on September 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
I think we all have a "fear" of certain subjects. For me, that fear manifests itself in the field of math. I was terrified of it in school and even now would rather discuss almost any other subject. Zinsser helps us face our fear of subjects we think we don't understand by writing. How will that help? You probably know a lot about the work you do. You could probably also write very competently about your profession. In "Writing to Learn," Zinsser shows us that writing across the curriculum (which is very prominent in education right now) can help anyone learn how to organize and present their thoughts in a logical manner so that they can be understood by those who might otherwise be intimidated by them. Zinsser gives many examples from writers that support his statement that writing is helpful in all subjects in the curriculum: science, history, music, math...MATH??? How can you write about math? It's all in Zinsser's book, which is as entertaining as it is informative.
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62 of 70 people found the following review helpful By thewahlmighty on November 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
For those who have read _On Writing Well_, the classic guide to writing better--meaning: clearer--prose, an excellent follow-up is this book, entitled _Writing to Learn: How to Write--and Think--Clearly About any Subject at All_. With such a title little needs to be said regarding the book's purpose and content. (It focuses on a variety of subjects, from philosophy all the way to chemistry, and shows how each can be written about in clear prose _for the benefit of the writer_.)
I got the book after listening to a course by Leonard Peikoff on the philosophy of education. In it, he states that writing should be an integral part of every subject, so much so that there should be one grade based on _what_ the student knows and another based on _how_ he expresses that knowledge in writing. When I bought it, I wanted to see how this would play out in real life, were it ever enacted. Also, to be honest, I was just a tad bit skeptical that it could be used effectively with such subjects as mathematics and chemistry.
What I learned from reading the book was that writing about a variety of subjects is not only possible but of inestimable help to the student--not to mention the teacher too, as it makes their job of evaluating the status of each child's education much easier. There were many insightful comments in the book and a few precious gems of wisdom. On the topic of obscurity, for instance, Zinsser writes:
"Obscurity being one of the deadly sins, anyone might suppose that serious people would labor mightily to avoid it in their writing. But to suppose this is to overlook another force of nature that almost equals entropy as a drag on life's momentum. That force is snobbery.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
Zissner entices the reader to write, write, write! It is one of the best guides to aid professors, high school teachers, and every day people to write for everything. His chapters on writing for math, science and other fields where writing is sometimes difficult for students, are practical and full of examples. Great for first-time college students.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Yellow on July 6, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book starts by expressing how we can use writing to learn, but it seems to get more into stating over and over THAT we can use writing to learn, not HOW to learn through writing, or how to teach through the use of writing. But maybe it's just me.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By sunjoy on January 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
The book is funny at times, and recounts a few interesting anectdotes. It seems dated to me though, as its purpose is to argue for the inclusion of writing instruction accross all subjects in the introductory undergaduate curriculum. This is no longer a novel idea, and many liberal arts colleges and universities already do this. Furthermore, Zinsser's argument is purely anectdotal, and focusses on demonstrating that professors, especially in the sciences, can indeed implement writing components in their courses. Zinsser does not do much to analyze the effects of these efforts, to see if previously bad writers improved, or that the writing assignments actually helped increase either understanding of, or curiosity in, a given subject.

The book is *not* a guide on how to write, or on how, specifically, one can structure one's research and writing to best learn one's subject matter. Zinsser illustrates only the most basic principles (be specific, avoid excessive jargon).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. Jaksetic on September 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In this book, the author challenges the conventional view that nonfiction writing is intended primarily to express or communicate ideas and conclusions that a writer has already formed or reached. Rather, the author contends that (1) writing can be an important method for clarifying thinking, improving teaching, and facilitating learning; (2) good writing can and should be a goal in all disciplines (not just English and literature); and (3) fear of writing is an unnecessary impediment to better education. The author supports his contentions with a combination of reflections on his personal experiences, examples of good writing from a variety of disciplines, and interesting observations about how various professionals use writing to clarify their thinking and better communicate their ideas, and various teachers use writing as a tool to get students to learn better.

This book is written for the general public and does not assume the reader has any particular training or experience with logic, grammar, rhetoric, written composition, or teaching pedagogy. The book is easy to read, and provides many interesting and thoughtful observations and ideas that do not require any particular training or expertise to understand and follow.

The book does not present a systematic approach or a structured exposition, but rather uses anecdotes and reflections on the author's personal experiences to set forth his contentions, arguments, and conclusions. The book contains an impassioned call for using writing to teach and learn, but it does not provide any organized or detailed proposals on how this can or should be done.
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