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On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction Paperback – May 9, 2006
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“Not since The Elements of Style has there been a guide to writing as well presented and readable as this one. A love and respect for the language is evident on every page.” (Library Journal)
About the Author
William Zinsser is a writer, editor and teacher. He began his career on the New York Herald Tribune and has since written regularly for leading magazines. During the 1970s he was master of Branford College at Yale. His 17 books, ranging from baseball to music to American travel, include the influential Writing to Learn and Writing About Your Life. He teaches at the New School in New York.
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780060891541
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060891541
- Dimensions : 0.76 x 5.31 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; 30th Anniversary ed. edition (May 9, 2006)
- Reading level : 15 - 18 years
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0060891548
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Then my friend recommended me this book. It made me question what it means to write well. I knew what I thought writing well meant, but I didn’t know what successful authors thought it meant. That ignorance made me decide to buy the book.
Reading this book was a journey — it started out great, then dragged on and became unbearable, and then ended on a high note with the most useful information.
The beginning either taught me keys to writing well or reinforced ones that I already knew: write with confidence; speak from the first person; tell your story; use a unique perspective; and use peculiar phrases to keep the reader attentive.
Then came the descent. Zinsser is a great writer, but not the best teacher. I wasn’t sure I took away all the key points. Each chapter covers a different subject, with a lot of points scattered throughout the paragraphs. I’m not sure I picked up on everything he writes about. It would have been easier if he ended each chapter with bullet points of the key takeaways, or ended it with questions that ask the reader if they understood the key points.
Then Part 3 put me to sleep. Part 3 is about writing about different subjects. The problem again is how the material is presented. Each chapter is about a different subject. In each of them are many passages from other writers that he uses as examples to analyze. He often quotes a passage, spends a paragraph or two analyzing it, and then jumps straight to the next passage with no clear delineation. I found myself drifting off for a page or two and then realizing I didn’t know what I was reading. I had to go back and re-read often. If he had made clear breaks, like starting each passage on the next page, giving each passage a header, or some other visual break, it would have been much easier.
Not only was Part 3 hard to follow, he didn’t always appear to be an expert on the subject he was talking about. I don’t consider myself a funny person, but I learned nothing about humor from reading his chapter on the subject. He states that he has taught classes on humor writing — suggesting he has expert insights — but he only provides common knowledge: don’t explain jokes, and don’t repeat them.
But suffering through Part 3 was worth it. Part 4 contains the most valuable information in the book. He breaks down one of his own articles piece by piece and offers his thought process on writing. I got a lot out of it. He gives a lot of useful tips: think what the reader wants to know next after each sentence; the last sentence of each paragraph should springboard to the next paragraph; know when to end an article; and have a strong ending.
From this book I learned the value of brevity. I learned the value of simplicity. And more than anything else, I learned to trust myself and the concept that, in the end, people don't love a book because they are in love with the subject, they love a book (and stick with it regardless of topic) because they like the author. I also learned, very importantly, that your teachers were all wrong when they told you not to write in the first person: Mr. Zinsser convinced me that writing in the first person is the best--often the only--way to write.
If you don't trust yourself and don't trust your ideas, why on Earth are you writing anything?
I also learned from this book that humor and surprise are necessary elements of most nonfiction writing.
Be yourself, talk directly to the reader, be funny, be human, be a tiny bit clever--and you may even surprise yourself with what a good writer you are. Trust yourself, and trust simplicity.
One thing I'll add is to read it more than once, if you're like me, you'll miss many of the nuggets the first time around. I've been through it three times now and continue to find more gems of wisdom.
– E.B. White
“Writing is the geometry of the soul.”
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  Principles, where notions such as clutter and style are covered,  Methods, where leads and endings are covered,  Forms, where various forms of nonfiction are explored at length and  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.
Top reviews from other countries
My favourite part is that dedicated to the basics: what not to do when writing, and specifically how to avoid, as te author calls it, "clutter". The author gives many examples of that "clutter": how banks, insurance companies, large corporations and, obviously and repeatedly, the politians use the language not to explain, but to conceal what they mean, or to look more important, and all by means of using longer (and generally useless, many times gramaically incorrect) expressions. Thus: "at the present time" instead of now, and a long array of examples.
As I said in the title of this review: a must have for anyone who reads or write; for anyone.
This is non-optional reading for all writers and professional, aspirational people in general.
Having studied Journalism a decade ago I wish I'd had this book then. It taught me everything I should have learnt but was never taught. It demonstrates the subtleties of using the English language. Which, it seems to me, that between school, college and uni they expect you to learn but never actually teach. It took me only a week to read this book and I am a more confident writer as a result. There are some chapters that are specific to particular types of writing such as sports, or memoir so you can skip these if not suitable for your needs. This book is written by a journalist and so it is geared around getting you to write snappier more engaging pieces that would suit the news or feature stories. I wouldn't recommend it for academic writing so much.
My only criticism is Zinsser's attempt to wipe out the semi-colon in favour of the dash. How will we wink then ;)