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272 of 278 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In response to the criticism that Zinsser "generalizes egregiously about topics that are enormous"
The most damaging (but fair) criticism I've heard of this book came from reviewer D. Fineman who said, "He generalizes egregiously about topics that are enormous. ... He feels free to judge -- for instance scientists -- outside his field."

I agree that Zinsser does these things, but I disagree that it is a problem. In fact, if I have one criticism of the book...
Published on April 22, 2012 by A fellow with a keyboard

versus
493 of 618 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I am sorry to disagree....
I usually only write reviews for books I can praise. I actively avoid giving criticism about books that have, as this one does, a large and enthusiastic following. I feel compelled to write now because I think that many will not be as well served as they imagine after reading these reviews.

I think this book is popular for many understandable and, in...
Published on September 20, 2009 by D. Fineman


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272 of 278 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In response to the criticism that Zinsser "generalizes egregiously about topics that are enormous", April 22, 2012
This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
The most damaging (but fair) criticism I've heard of this book came from reviewer D. Fineman who said, "He generalizes egregiously about topics that are enormous. ... He feels free to judge -- for instance scientists -- outside his field."

I agree that Zinsser does these things, but I disagree that it is a problem. In fact, if I have one criticism of the book it is exactly the opposite: that the lessons are even more generalizable and broadly applicable than Zinsser gives them credit for. For instance, if you skip the travel writing chapter, or if you read it thinking that it only applies to travel writing, then you will miss two golden and persuasive arguments that ought to apply to *any* writer:

1) The things that come to the writer easiest -- cliché, excessive detail, syrupy and vague language -- are the things that keep the reader bored/detached/passive.

2) Your main task as a writer is to distill the essence of whatever you're writing about--to find its central idea, to describe its distinctive qualities using precise images. In other words, your main task is to work excruciatingly hard.

The goal of any writer (yes, any) ought to be to transform the reader from a passive observer into an ally. It's excruciatingly hard to do, but once you realize that that's the goal, and once you realize that the parts that come easiest are what's getting in the way of that goal, then you can start writing well.

Zinsser knows these things, and he articulates them beautifully. It is one of the most persuasive books I have read, on any subject. But I hate that the lessons are hidden within topic-specific chapters. Please read with that in mind.
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86 of 101 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A CLASSIC GUIDE TO WRITING WELL, May 15, 2007
This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, is meant to compliment The Elements of Style by Stunk and White. In Zinsser's own words "The Elements of Style is a book of pointers and admonitions: do this, don't do that. What it didn't address was how to apply those principles to the various forms that nonfiction writing and journalism can take."

Although the book is organized in four parts, the content could really be summarized in two categories:

· Writing principals, methods, and attitudes

· Guidelines for specific forms of nonfiction, including travel, humor, business, sports, arts, memoirs, and family history.

Subjects addressed include: rewriting, craft vs. art, humanity and warmth, clutter, simplicity, finding a style, clichés, rhythm, unity, tone, and attitude. All of these are covered with the insight of a successful writer having decades of experience.

The author works some biographical information and experiences into the text, but the focus of the material is on writing well. Given that the first edition was in 1976, some of the examples and attitudes are dated, but they also add to the charm of the book.

No recaps or exercises are included at the end of the chapters, but an index is provided for easy reference.

As the subtitle indicates, the book is specifically directed at nonfiction writing, but many of the concepts also apply to fiction. With over a million copies sold, and in its thirtieth anniversary edition, much of the information has already been worked into other writing guides. As envisioned by Zinsser, On Writing Well compliments The Elements of Style. Together, they make a great combination.
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493 of 618 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I am sorry to disagree...., September 20, 2009
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This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
I usually only write reviews for books I can praise. I actively avoid giving criticism about books that have, as this one does, a large and enthusiastic following. I feel compelled to write now because I think that many will not be as well served as they imagine after reading these reviews.

I think this book is popular for many understandable and, in themselves, good reasons. The writer is up-beat and optimistic. He supplies simple formulas for complex problems. He has both wit and charm. He supplies many funny stories. He makes fun of pompous academics and pedagogues. He is empathetic and warm. His instructions are personal, not distant or abstract. He requires little of the reader and avoids pesky formalities. For all these reasons, one should be attracted to a non-fictional book of reminiscence about writing. However, all these virtues are not those of a book teaching writing.

Indeed, many dislike books that try to teach writing because the majority are rigorous, boring, and impersonal. So, it is no wonder that against those demanding and dry texts this humane presentation appears as an oasis. However, it is a mistake to think that those emotional values make this a good writing text.

This book's relation with writing is much like a movie's relation with its topic: a narrative about a thing more than an instruction. For instance, "Field of Dreams" may make us happy, but it hardly is likely to make us better baseball players. Here most of Zinsser's time is expended in context, quotation of others, and folksy tale. These are topped off with a brief commands - "Go to it" - that have a cheerleader's enthusiasm and lack of content. He celebrates one style, his own, which is short and informal to the exclusion of the hundreds of others that have graced our language. He gives little help with formal discourse. He feels free to judge -- for instance scientists -- outside his field and beside the point. He makes numerous grammatical errors and seems to recognize the dash as the only punctuation. He generalizes egregiously about topics that are enormous and yet undefined, for instance "the human element."
In short, he is less an instructor and more a coach.

As I said, his many strengths have understandably broad appeal, but this book would be inadequate for the college classes I teach. You may not need such formal help and that is fine as long as you do not think it appears here.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good - but know what you're getting, May 16, 2012
By 
D. Motta (Shanghai, China) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
First, note the title: On Writing Well. That is how one titles an essay. It is NOT a technical book that will lay out how to write. It's a collection of well written essays about different factors that will help you write better. The negative reviews are a bit ridiculous in their complaints because they expected something other than what the book is (ironically a lot of them are poorly written as well). If you're a professional writer, this probably won't do much for you. If you like writing and want to clean up your craft a little with this collection of tips, then it'll be great for you. And I'm assuming most of us here don't get paid to write so 5 stars it is.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Very Best, July 17, 2007
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This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
In the early 1980s I took a college English course that used On Writing Well as a text. Back then I considered it the very best writing book I'd ever seen. I still think that way today. I've seen plenty of others, but none compare. This book is fantastic in its coaching, mentoring, and its own exemplary writing. I recently bought the 30th Anniversary Edition and am glad to be renewing my acquaintance with this superlative guide. Thank you, Mr. Zinsser!
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasantly Surprised, June 13, 2006
By 
EconFan (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
I purchsed this book because I was looking to write better at work (I'm a management consultant). As I began reading, I quickly realized that it was not the "don't put prepositions at the end of a sentence" (although, he actually debunks that somewhat)...Point being, I learned so much more about writing than I ever thought I would, and the benefits accrued immediately -- the following Monday, I could see the results already (and so could my Boss). And the book is a pleasure to read -- it makes you more conscious of how writer's write, making reading other author's less pleasurable now , or at least realizing their flaws more readily. I would highly recommend this book to those who want to be better writers, no matter their ultimate goal, and even those who just love reading, and want to better understand the craft of writing.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good basic advice for basic writers, November 9, 2006
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This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
I read this book as part of a class on writing essays. The advice in it is apt, but it was too basic for the good writers in the group. The nonwriters, on the other hand, found it all amazing and startling stuff. I'd recommend it for those who have read enough to know what a complete sentence looks like but have never seriously written before and want to.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars teatime with Zinsser, July 6, 2009
This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
I had to read this book. It was on a book list for a course: otherwise I would not have picked it up. The book became like an afternoon tea time with a surpisingly beloved professor. Zinssor makes me want to write. In fact, reading this book makes me want to be a writer. What I expected to be dry was full of wit. What I expected to be pedantic, turned out to be humorously so. How does one laugh when reading about the use of commas or the overuse of cliches? Zinsser zings his readers with his writing style, often employing what he just told us not to do-with great results. Only a master writer can get away with that.

I recommend this book to anyone who thinks they already know how to write, or has stories knocking on inner doors eager to see the light of paper. Zinsser throttles habits that are comfortable but lame. This book makes the art of writing seemingly accessible, with realistic suggestions, corrections, inspirations. By the end, you will find yourself purchasing the next Zinsser title, in order to extend the delightful cup of tea you started with "On Writing Well."
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Friendly style of narration, along with some unconvential styles, July 31, 2011
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This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
That top review of this book is unforgiving. Just brutal. If you're reading my review, definitely read through what other reviewers have to say. This book is certainly not as bad as one may think.

- Gives you structure of writing. The author doesn't want you to forget everything you learned. They emphasize on simplifying your writing making it more colorful.

- Although you may experience neglecting certain aspects of your writing, you will improve on the creative part, being more open, colorful, and vivid.

Don't expect this book to give you all the answers to perfect your writing. It is not that. It is not the Bedford Handbook, Elements of Style, nor anything like that. This book is more like giving you a different way to look at writing. You will not be disappointed, because your writing will improve through looking at English from a different perspective.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource for writers, June 17, 2007
By 
Reenie (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Paperback)
I will re-read this book at least once a year. Whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned writer, this guide is clearly written and totally accessible. Buy it.
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On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
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