On Writing Well by William Zinsser

An excellent guide to all aspects of writing. Unlike the tight focus of The Elements of Style, this one covers everything, from attitudes to subject matter to motivations. The core message is: put yourself into your writing. Corporate and academic environments seem to encourage distant writing with no character, but this is never useful. Writing without character is not something we ever want to read. Good writing conveys persona and human warmth, without being overly breezy or lacking in seriousness.

Of course any book about writing must be an advertisement for itself, and this one is perfect in that regard. Perhaps the best element is the humor - subtle running jokes such as admonishing authors from using a particular device, then using that device later in the sentence, make this an incredibly enjoyable read. In truth the first third or half is where the goldmine lies; beyond that, it starts to show its date as the author talks about subject matter, tools (such as references to these newfangled tape records), and other matters that are less relevant to modern audiences.

Many of the lessons revolve around removing clutter. Struck's Omit Needless Words rule is one part of this, but so Zinsser extends it to describe focus at every level. Each word should serve a purpose, each phrase support the central thesis, and the entire piece should tie together with a cohesiveness because it has been trimmed down to only the bare minimum needed to convey its point. Sharp, directed, forceful writing gets your message across. Anything else turns into static and loses the readers interest, or fails to stick in their mind.

Rating: 3 of 5
Back to book list
Other books by William Zinsser: