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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
65


on October 15, 2014
I feel the same about this book as I posted for Stephen Wilber's later book, "Mastering the craft of writing." I'd advise writers who wish to grow in their craft to buy and study both books. Find my review of that book and apply it to both books, and buy both of them. If you believe you are a writer (fiction as well as non-fiction), you should have these books in your library for continued reference. You can't do any better.
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on July 7, 2014
I haven't read this book in years, but some of the things that the author said stuck with me for a long time. I feel that after I read this book, my writing improved and eventually it became natural to write better. I have no idea what happened to my book after my crazy move from college to graduate school, but I loved the book so much that I always remembered the cover of it and said I would some day find it again. I kept confusing it the title with Strunk's title and thought the title was "Elements of Great Writing". Suddenly the title of the book hit me "Keys" and so when I found it here on Amazon I got super excited! I just ordered the print version again and will definitely sink my teeth into it when it arrives.
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on January 17, 2014
This book is a keeper!
Book: Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers
After much searching and debating, as to which book could be better to help me polish my poor writing skills, I decided for Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers. This book turned out to be what I needed in able to assist me with some general rules, thus I could start writing our family history. In this book readers will find good samples on how to avoid some of the most obvious pitfall when writing: poor choices of words, wordiness, overly long sentences, dry writing, how to develop a personal writing style and so much more. This book would make a very helpful reference book for college students and or any adult that wants to review the forgotten skills and or even learn new ones. This book is a keeper!
Magda J
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on July 13, 2005
Sharpen your pencil and get out your highlighter, this book is a keeper. Written in easy, non-condescending language, Keys To Great Writing is a great interactive study tool for both the novice and the accomplished writer.

Effective for all types of writing, Keys focuses on business writing as well as fictional (or literary) writing. However, with its concentration on structure (in easy to use terms), Keys proves to be as valuable for writing a memo to your boss as it is for writing the great American novel.

Relying heavily on Strunk and White's 'The Elements Of Style' and Williams' 'Style: Ten Lessons In Clarity', Wilbers captures a cozier approach to the structure and disciplines of writing well. He also manages to cover an amazing array of rules, styles, and techniques, quite well, in a brief 250 pages. The book also includes a Glossary of Grammatical Terms, a checklist for Keys To Great Writing, a checklist for Elements of Composition, a checklist for Proofreading, Recommended Resources, and an Index.

Some of the book, especially chapter five on Personality, works well for public speaking as well as writing techniques. So his points made in Keys To Great Writing could very well be called Keys To Great Communication. One of the things I found most helpful was Wilber's heavy use of example, showing both the correct and incorrect structures. Noun modifiers, actions verbs, hedges, POV's, setting, scene, subject, style, noun stacks, personality, adjectives, sentence types, ellipses, economy, punctuation, and more...its all here.

The book is divided into three parts, Keys To Great Writing, Elements Of Composition, and Drafting And Revising. Each part is divided into straightforward categories that flow easily from one lesson to the next. I wouldn't mind having Wilber's work on CD as a companion to the book. If you write for business (memos, letters, policy and procedure), or you write for pleasure (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, short stories or novels), Wilber's 'Keys To Great Writing' is an invaluable companion for your desktop. Enjoy!
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on January 29, 2016
Stephen Wilbers writes clearly and effectively to teach us how to write clearly and effectively. He practices what he preaches. Everything he teaches in Keys to Great Writing, he actually uses in writing the book. The whole book is sample after sample of him actually following his own advice. While reading this book, I was amazed at how effortlessly Wilbers transitions from topic to topic, from paragraph to paragraph, and from sentence to sentence, and I realized that I struggled with that in my own writing. Now I am more aware of how to make transitions. And many other things. Great book. Five stars.
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on February 15, 2015
This is probably one of the best writing books among I have got. There is no doubt that "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White is the golden standard, however, I sometimes wished to see more practical examples. This book by Stephen Wilbers get to the details with variety of examples. The book steps into relatively high level in writing - personality and music. As I want to improve my professional writing in scientific writing, majority of my colleagules may say that we do not need styles like personality and music. However, whenever I read great (mostly review of some field) articles, I do see why I like them. I am very sure that this book will help me incorporate some spice in my scientific writing.
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on March 2, 2016
Seminary taught me many lessons, many of which took the form of words. Of course, many words in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin were entirely new to me. But even in English seminary gave me new words to express ideas which were previously unformed and unattended. Writers may find themselves similarly challenged in Stephen Wilbers[1] book: Keys to Great Writing.

What are the keys here? Wilbers lists five keys: economy, precision, action, music, and personality. Let me say a few words about each.

Economy. “Make every word count.” Wilber illustrates his point by chunking up a poem by Langston Hughes, “Harlem”, and asking the reader to edit it by bracketing out unnecessary verbiage. Then, he brackets the verbiage himself. The word count falls from 112 to 54, but the power in the poem rises as the word count falls (11-13). He then moves on to offer fourteen techniques for eliminating wordiness.

My favorite technique was number 5: “Delete ‘hollow’ hedges and meaningless intensifiers” A hollow hedge is an unnecessary qualifier. For example, in the expression, “rather surprised”, the word, surprised, is sufficient which makes the word, rather, a hollow hedge. Likewise, an intensifier normally adds emphasis, but not all emphasis is necessary. For example, the word, very, is everyone’s favorite unnecessary intensifier. Wilber recommends that if the meaning of the expression is unchanged when omitting hedges and intensifiers, then leave them out (21).

Precision. “Use the right word.” Prefer action verbs and concrete nouns; appeal to the five senses; be careful with modifiers; avoid sexist language; speak plainly and directly. (37-47).

Action. “Use action and movement to engage your reader.” Wilbers reinforces his earlier comments here about action verbs and cautions about pompous nouns—nominalizations. What makes this presentation differ from a typical treatment is that Wilber includes punctuation in this discussion and outlines rules for using both nominalizations and the passive voice. For example, he offers five reasons to use passive voice:

To emphasize the receiver of the action.
To de-emphasize the performer of the action.
To avoid responsibility.
To create smooth connections between sentences.
To maintain a consistent point of view or sequence of subjects (56-57).
His treatment here stresses the principle that a skilled writer uses language forms appropriately rather than blindly following rules.

Music. Wilbers advises the reader to “listen to your voice”. Language is simply a representation of the spoken word (67-68).

In representing the spoken word, Wilbers classifies punctuate marks into three categories: marks of clarification (hyphens, quotation marks, and parentheses), marks of inflection (question marks and exclamation marks) and marks of separation (periods, commas, semicolons, and dashes) (72). He then offers a rhythmic interpretation of separation marks. Think of a period as a whole note rest; a colon as a three-quarter note rest; a semicolon as a half-note rest; and a comma as a quarter-note rest (73-75).

Another important way to represent the spoken word is through using different sentence structures. Wilber classifies twelve sentence types in three broad categories: functional (declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory) sentences, grammatical (simple, compound, complex, and compound complex) sentences, and rhetorical (periodic, loose, balanced, and antithetical) sentences (89). Some of these sentence types are familiar; others require definition. A sentence type new to me, for example, was a periodic sentence which is defined as a compound sentence where the subordinate clauses precede the main clause creating a sense of expectation. A loose sentence does exactly the opposite having the main clause precede the subordinate clauses (89).

Personality. Wilbers advises writers to “be lively, unpredictable, playful, and genuine” (107). For example, Wilbers writes: “A good metaphor has three qualities: aptness, novelty, and simplicity” which might satisfy each of these conditions. (114) More generally, this chapter pulls together elements from the previous chapters and talks about how to use them.

The five keys are discussed in the first five of Wilbers’ eleven chapters. The complete list of chapters are:

Part One: Keys to Great Writing
1. Economy.
2. Precision.
3. Action.
4. Music.
5. Personality.

Part Two: Elements of Composition
6. Purpose.
7. Point of View.
8. Organization.
9. Support.
10. Coherence.

Part Three: Drafting and Revising
11. The Writing Process.

Part one described above accounts for 126 of 262 pages, or about half of the book.

Part two is perhaps of the most interest to experienced writers. For example, Wilbers reviews six purposes for writing:

1. To inform the reader.
2. To entertain the reader.
3. To persuade the reader.
4. To transact business (or accomplish a task).
5. To express oneself.
6. To create a literary work (131).

Note that the first three purposes focus on the reader and the last three focus on the writers—the more that you know about why you write, the more precise the writing will be. Clearly, how you write informs what gets written.

Having offered a flavor of Wilbers’ writing, let me sum up.

Stephen Wilbers book, Keys to Great Writing, outlines the major themes of writing without narrowing the focus to a particular genre. While this makes his book suitable as a composition textbook for college students, it has an engaging style which does not feel like a textbook. Authors serious about moving their writing style to a higher level will want to take notice.

[1] In another review (posting March 8, 2016), I give some back ground on Stephen Wilbers (Wilbers Offers Writing Tips to Remember; [...]
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on September 22, 2015
I used this in my college English class and learned so much!!! The reading was intriguing and I did not find myself spacing out which is easy to do with bad books. It helped me earn A's in my essays and it broadened my everyday writing and speaking habits!
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on July 2, 2013
Keys to Great Writing was recommended to me by a lawyer. He had come to America from Egypt and he told me that this book helped him immeasurably. At the time, I was preparing to start a double major in history and English at college. Judging by my course outline, I knew that I planned on producing a voluminous portion of written material for my various classes, and the prospect of tackling PCC's daunting English requirements scared me into buying this book for $13.17 on Amazon. I'm glad I did.

Wilbers relies heavily on Strunk and White's Elements of Style to answer the question, "What are the keys to great writing?"

Before he begins to answer this question, Wilbers starts his book with a quote by nineteenth-century English critic Matthew Arnold: "People think I can teach them style. What stuff it is. Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style." And that is the crux of this book. Wilbers wants writers to find something to say, say it clearly, and say it well.

I'm not a big fan of grammar because it bores me. Simple sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences, participial phrases, subordinate clauses, summative modifiers-who cares? Terms are terms. I've sat through grammar classes and I've tried to get excited about appositives and prepositions, but I have to be honest, I find math classes more exciting. And I hate math.

But Wilbers brings grammar to life. In just 250 pages, the author covers a wide array of techniques that any writer can apply, whether you are writing a research paper, a business report, or the next best-selling novel. Wilbers adorns Keys to Great Writing with golden nuggets, sprinkling them throughout the entire book, which is neatly organized into three main sections.

In part one, Wilbers discusses the keys to great writing. He delves into the techniques surrounding economy, precision, action, music, and personality.

In part two, Wilbers outlines the elements of good composition. He covers the purpose, the point of view, organization, support, and coherence.

In part three, Wilbers concludes his book with a section on drafting and revising, as well as an useful discussion on the writing process. He includes a glossary of grammatical terms, a checklist to follow while writing, a checklist for proofreading, and a recommended reading list.

Overall, different writers struggle in different areas. I struggle with specificity. I'm often too vague. The following passage on precision really stuck with me once I read it:

"It would be difficult to explore some of the great themes in literature and philosophy without abstract words like truth, beauty, and goodness, but, as a rule, effective writing draws its energy from specificity, not from abstraction and generality. You are more likely to make a definite impression on your reader if you use specific, rather than abstract, words. Rather than `We were affected by the news,' write `We were relieved by the news' or ` We were devastated by the news.' Use words that convey precisely and vividly what you are thinking or feeling." - Keys to Great Writing, page 39.

Applying this technique furnished my writing with a juicy kick, a shot of adrenaline my prose desperately needed.

But your struggles might not be specificity. Perhaps you struggle with wordiness. Perhaps your writing is dry, or perhaps you have a hard time with organization and support. Whatever your struggle, Wilbers provides an analysis of why you are struggling, and, more important, he shows you the side-by-side technique on how to improve it, and keep improving it.

4.5/5 stars
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on October 6, 2000
I read this book as part of a writing workshop. What immediately struck me was the clarity of his examples, and the clever way he used his own examples (good and bad) throughout his explanatory sections. So, pay attention when you read, and you'll see and feel exactly what he means. The book itself starts out with the "basics". But, rather than explain punctuation and what complex-compound sentences look like, the author puts everything in broader terms, explaining why great writers write they way they do. So, we learn about economy of words, the music of the language, how to raise interest with action, points of view, and the like. You will definitely learn mechanics and grammar, but in a way that will make it obvious why we have these rules. You'll also see why we sometimes break the rules. The second section goes further with organizing your work, and using supporting text to develop your scenes and characters. We see how to make everything believable. Finally, we spend some time looking at drafts, rewriting, and "the writing process." If you are a new writer, you will learn more here than you can grasp in one reading; if you are an experienced writer, the book will inspire you to hone your craft even further.
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