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On Writing Well, 25th Anniversary: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction 25th anniversary ed Non fiction guide Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060006648
ISBN-10: 0060006641
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

William Zinsser is a writer, editor and teacher. He began his career with the New York Herald Tribune and has been a longtime contributor to leading magazines. His 17 books include Writing to Learn; Mitchell & Ruff; Spring Training; American Places; Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs; and most recently Writing About Your Life. During the 1970s he taught writing at Yale, where he was master of Branford College. He now teaches at the New School, in New York, his hometown, and at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.


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Product Details

  • Series: On Writing Well
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Collins; 25th anniversary ed Non fiction guide edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060006641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060006648
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on August 26, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Zinsser asserts that writing well can be learned. This is good news. I thought I wrote well until I compared my reviews to those of some of the consistent top reviewers on Amazon. How do they do that?

According to Zinsser (and affirmed by Tom Clancy on a TV interview), good writers follow rules, editing each sentence and paragraph multiple times. They write against deadlines whether or not they're feeling inspired. When done properly, the finished product can look deceptively simple to write. Following is my liberally abridged summary of Zinsser's rules:

1. Do - prune out every word that does not perform a necessary function. Strip each sentence to its cleanest components. A clear sentence is no accident.

2. Do - use the thesaurus liberally. Learn the small gradations between words that seem to be synonyms.

3. Do - try to improve the rhythm by reversing the order of a sentence, substituting a word that has freshness or oddity, and by varying the lengths of sentences.

4. Do - make your first sentence the best one - your lead must capture the reader.

5. Do - make each sentence lead into the next. Readers think linearly.

6. Do - Take special care with the last sentence in your paragraph - its the springboard to the next paragraph.

7. Do - make your paragraphs short. Readers think in segments.

8. Do - pay special attention to the last sentence. The perfect ending should take your reader slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right.

9. Do - Read it aloud to see how it sounds and re-edit - then do it again. Clear writing is the result of lots of tinkering.

On the other hand:

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Format: Paperback
William Zinsser's on writing well has a history of being used in writing courses. He advocates a writing style is direct, clear and crisp. He divides the book into four sections: The Principles, Methods, Forms and Attitudes. Probably the best parts are the first two. The Principles covers keeping your writing simple, removing clutter, writing for the audience, word choice and usage. The Methods covers things such as unity within the writing, the lead and ending and various other aspects of writing methods. The section on Forms covers various specific writing techniques and styles for different forms of writing. Specifically it covers areas such as the Interview, Travel Articles, the Memoir, Business Writing and Technical Writing. If you have a specific need for one of these forms then the section has some very good advice. Finally the section on Attitude covers the required Attitude of the writer.
Throughout the book you learn that writing is indeed a craft that can be learned. Zinsser points out the most important patterns and techniques of successful writers so that you can follow their lead. This book is still one of the most recommended texts for people just beginning to learn to write and with good reason, it should be on the bookshelf of anyone serious about writing.
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If writing non-fiction is an important part of your personal or professional life, reading this classic will be a sound investment. I read this book many years ago, when it was in its first edition, and its wisdom has had a profound impact on me. I can think of few experiences that have had such a demonstrably positive influence on my career (I am currently a professor of computer science). I have found Zinsser's sage advice to be applicable to writing technical papers, letters to the PTA, and virtually every other form of non-fiction.
Zinsser patiently instructs his readers on how to write about travel or science, how to conduct an interview, how to craft an effective lead and ending, and even how to get started. Along the way, Zinsser entreats us to omit clutter and cliché, strike out useless adverbs, adjectives, and qualifiers, incorporate active verbs, and strive for correct usage as well as unity of pronoun, tense, and mood. But the overriding messages are clarity, simplicity, and directness. Keep it crisp. Oh, and just like driving a car, always signal your intentions (keep that "but" at the beginning of the sentence).
Two specific pages in Zinsser's book have remained etched in my mind from the moment I took them in almost two decades ago. They comprise the most genuine and revealing demonstration I have ever seen in a book on writing. On those two pages (pages 10 and 11 in the first edition), Zinsser provides a glimpse at the penultimate draft of the very book you are reading, juxtaposed with the corresponding pages in final form; in so doing, Zinsser invites you to critically examine his own writing, while revealing something of his process. This was brilliant.
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Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book on writing. It is more than just a guide to writing grammatically well, it also teaches how to write interesting, meaningful pieces. Though this book includes its fair share of grammar and syntax lessons, its main focus (and the largest portion of its pages) is in the ART of writing well.
Parts I and II cover the basics on style--how to eliminate clutter, write clear, tight sentences, etc. Part III, the bulk of the work, deals individually with a variety of subjects that you might write about--people, places, business, sports, the arts, etc. This is where the book is most handy, where Zinsser steps out of the writing-guide mold and gives us something unique, something very useful.
Part IV deals much with the process of revision, and talks about the final product. This is useful to anyone who has goals of being published. Throughout, this book is full of humor and wit, as well as a writing style that is very fun to read. The only negative (in my opinion): Zinsser uses too many of his own pieces as a basis of comparison. Yes, I agree, he IS a good writer. But he's not the ONLY good writer out there. I would have liked to see less of his own work. The examples he uses from other writers are great--I just wish there were more of them.
Overall, this is a must-have for any aspiring writer, or for anyone who likes to write and wants to improve his or her style. This is not the best writing book out there, but you'll definitely see an improvement in your style for having read it.
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