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On Writing Well by William Zinsser – Book Review

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

A classic guide to writing non-fiction

On Writing Well is one of my favorite books.  William Zinsser adds humor to his writing style, and the book is entertaining and easy to read.  I was surprised that Williams’ advice included using the first person pronoun, this means starting a sentence with ‘I,’ ‘we’ or ‘us.’  I was taught to avoid writing in the first person except for writing fiction.  After carefully considering Williams’ advice, I concur and have starting writing reviews in the first person to add the human factor.  William helps the student to improve their writing style and readability.

William’s advice for the aspiring writer is to continually revise writing, eliminating any redundant words and simplifying sentences.   Novice writers often make the mistake of using complicated words and long sentences.  William teaches that this has the effect of, rather than impressing the reader, they are likely to fall asleep or get distracted.  In the world of internet blogging and social media, people have short attention spans and will click away from boring content.

Williams book is peppered with witty quotes, for example:

  • “The reader is an impatient bird perched on the thin edge of distraction or sleep.”
  • “In terms of craft, there’s no excused for losing readers through sloppy workmanship.  If they doze off in the middle of your article because you been careless about technical detail, the fault is yours.”

Rating

On writing well has received 4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads

On Writing WellOn Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing in their day to day activities. Almost everyone needs to write in the age of e-mail and the Internet.  On Writing Well is in its seventh edition.

Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.

Details

Paperback, 30th Anniversary Edition, 336 pages
Published April 5th, 2016 by Harper Perennial (first published 1976)
Original Title On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
ISBN 0060891548 (ISBN13: 9780060891541)

Conclusion

On Writing Well should be on the bookshelf of any serious writer.  The advice is easy to understand and not academic.  Basic common sense is easily understood.

Every chapter contains information the aspiring writer needs to know.  He starts by making the most crucial point about wordiness, and each section covers a different aspect of writing.  The book is for anyone interested in writing, not just academics.  William’s book is a fun read; it is not a textbook.

 

On Writing Well by William Zinnser

$13.11
8.6

GoodReads Rating

8.6/10

Pros

  • Easy to read and informative

Cons

  • Some points are made multiple times

Aaron Skudder

7 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article.  It was a good reminder to me to be less wordy!  I have not read the book myself.  However, I would have found it helpful to read a bit more of the details.  Are they specific chapters dedicated to specific topics?  Or is it geared to a certain audience?

    • Every chapter contains information the aspiring writer needs to know.  He starts by making the most important point about wordiness.  Each chapter covers a different aspect of writing.  The book is geared towards anyone interested in writing, not just academics.  William’s book is a fun read, it is not a textbook.

  2. Hi there, Aaron!

    Really enjoyed reading your review about William Zenssar’s classic, On Writing Well.

    I already know about people’s short attention span and how should keep our sentences fairly short.

    But I’ve heard of the first person pronoun before.

    Do think that adding the first person pronoun can boost content interaction and engagement?

    Can you give me a brief explanation of the term above?

    Many thanks, Jeff.

    • Hi Jeff.  Many academics teach that starting a sentence with ‘I’ is a bad idea in academic writing.  William teaches that adding a personal touch will help to engage the reader and create empathy.

  3. Yes. I knew about writing in short sentences. Somewhere I read that for a blog you have to write at the grade level X or XI. At one point I used Hemingway editor. He also shortens your chances. I believe that no matter how well you write, only readers who have the same passion as you will reach the end of your post.

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