Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction” as Want to Read:
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  11,399 ratings  ·  748 reviews
On 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 to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet. Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts ...more
Paperback, 30th Anniversary Edition, 336 pages
Published May 9th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published 1976)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
8th out of 478 books — 854 voters
On Writing by Stephen KingBird by Bird by Anne LamottThe Artist's Way by Julia CameronWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergLetters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Best Books on Creative Life
26th out of 233 books — 316 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Steve Sckenda
Writing is a craft not an art.

Clutter. Clutter is the disease of writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon. Our tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive con
Brilliant book!I definitely learned a lot of extremely useful advice from this book. I learned about the writing mistakes that I was making, and also how to enrich my own writing. Zinsser's tone and sense of humour made reading the book fun and interesting. This is the kind of book I would re-read every now and then for inspiration.
Katelyn Beaty
Jun 27, 2007 Katelyn Beaty rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: person who wants to write all good
I always thought of the ability to write well as a gift more than a skill--kind of like hand-eye coordination, or rhythm. You either have it or you don't. It's not until I began working in the editorial world that I realized the writing which seems effortless is that which requires the most effort. Part of my training at this job required reading a quintessential work on nonfiction writing, William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" (30th Anniversary edition). I was warned that it's a slow burn--perhap ...more
On Writing Well may primarily focus on non-fiction, but parts of it should be required reading for novelists, as well. Though, at first, Zinsser’s advice may seem anal–retentive and persnickety, it is great for keeping your work focused and making your sentences sharper.
The best part of On Writing Well focuses on“trimming the fat in the sentences you write. Zinsser provides a hand-edited page of his own On Writing Well manuscript as an example of how to cut down on useless words, and it is tru
Mar 27, 2008 Steven rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to improve their writing.
Shelves: reference, writing
One of the oldest ways to master a craft is through imitation and writing well is no different. Zinsser's book stands alongside Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" as one of the best guides on how to write clearly and effectively. The book's tone and style is much like a series of lectures from a professor who projects a sense of knowledge, warmth, and passion.

Zinsser illustrates many of his points through the use of personal anecdotes and examples culled from writers of different disciplin
This book may have a few valuable suggestions throughout, but it is difficult to reap Zinsser's lessons through his sexism and eurocentrism. He uses his own work (Haircurl) in the "Humor" chapter for no good reason because he really doesn't do anything with it except to show that it is funny. Unfortunately, it is not funny, and it is actually quite offensively mocking women. In "A Writer's Decisions" he describes a piece he wrote with thickly layered romanticism about a desert tribe that exotici ...more
♥ Ibrahim ♥

Books on writing can be intimidating but this books is charming and makes me want to read more and more. This book is written "well" by a man who knows how to "Write Well."
It is by no means a compliment to tell Zinser that anybody can write and we all can take up writing on the side. No. Writing is a craft rather than an art and we have to work at it. Our writing should be simple and clutter-free. Clear thinking becomes clear writing. Therefore, to write is always to rewrite over and over and o
Miranda Cary
In my opinion this book, compared to Elements of Style, is like being transported to an entirely different world in itself. No longer is some taut professor (sorry, Mr. White and Mr. Strunk! I still love you.) slapping a ruler against the board, directing you what verbs to use and which tenses sound best, what constitutes as good language compared to language that is gaudy and overrated, only putting the ruler down by the last few minutes of class to speak calmly with you; if White and Strunk tr ...more
Cathy DuPont
With Steve's review, I was reminded that I had read this years ago and it's in my "book closet" where I have all my writing reference books.

When did I read it? Well, I would have to think back and I can figure it out but it will take a while and I would rather be reading than go down that particular "memory lane."

Five stars indicates what I thought of this book and glad to know that it's contents are still valid today.

On Writing Well has many editions, but for the purposes of today's review I will be drawing directly from the 30th edition.

My desire, as I write my novel, is to write with simple, clear, effective prose. I once told a friend that "I try to write lightly and cleanly, expressing the things I want to say in few and pastel-colored words, but I do try to move the reader as well, and add in little things that make it come alive."

William Zinsser's On Writing Well was a healthy dose of affirmation and
Elena Rumyantseva
Меня всегда интересовало, почему одни собирают в своих блогах тысячи незнакомых подписчиков, а других даже друзья из реальной жизни читают через силу. В поисках ответа я наткнулась на книгу с многообещающим названием «Как писать хорошо. Классическое руководство по созданию нехудожественных текстов». Её автор, Уильям Зинсер, — успешный американский писатель нон-фикшн и журналист с почти семидесятилетним стажем.

Если бы мне нужно было рассказать о книге в одном предложении, я бы сказала, что это ин
It’s always intimidating setting out to write a review of a book on writing. One feels naked, exposed—now you have to prove that you’ve learned something. Lucky for me, I am a creature with little shame, so I’ll let my prose all hang out.

After reading Pragmatism by the American philosopher William James, I’ve realized that some American qualities cut deep. We are a people who love action and despise abstract argument. We like to see efficiency and real-world results. We set ourselves a goal and
Viviana D. Otero
I first read On Writing Well years ago when I was assigned to co-teach a writing course for Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) the summer of 2000. I thought then, I was prepared to teach a bunch of highly intelligent teens about the elements in writing great nonfiction. It turned out, however, that I learned much more about the writing process thanks to Zinsser. The head instructor for the course had read the book and informed me that our classes would be doing so as well. On ...more
Why Zinsser Still Matters

Second only to The Elements of Style, this is the best book ever written for writers. In many ways, it's better than Strunk and White, which tends to focus on grammar and the actual mechanics of writing as opposed to how a writer should think and approach things. The book focuses on nonfiction, but many (if not most) of the principles apply equally to any style of writing. Even chapters on things like how to do an interview offer valuable insights into what you're lookin
Michael Spotts
Jun 27, 2012 Michael Spotts rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Writers trapped in jungles
Turning the last page of On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, I compulsively kissed the cover—an act of grateful reverence bestowed on few books in the Spotts library, effectively Knighthood in the realm of my reading. This distinction was earned by Zinsser’s incomparable usefulness to the Writer that Would Be. Many “accomplished authors” have assumed the task of sharpening our nibs, and showed themselves little more than grammarians, or seized the chance to flaunt their cloying style and terrib ...more
Every bit as good the second time around.

If someone is going to presume to teach us to write, I think we can all agree that he’d better be pretty darn good at it himself. And in On Writing Well, we’re treated to that kind of a teacher—Zinsser clearly practices, and so we settle down into our pews and let him preach. His writing seems as if it just came gliding out of his pen—effortless and conversational, full of unselfconscious grace and sparkling with wry wit—but lest we stand too much in awe
Read the first two parts--

Witty, concise, and informative, the first two parts on "Principles" and "Methods" are brilliant. These parts, however, constitute 30% of the book. The rest of the book - that is, 70% - is uneven and can be skipped without missing out on anything important.

The only chapters I found worth reading are those on "Science and Technology," "Business Writing," and "Writing About Arts," all of which are in Part III. Other than these, none of the chapters say anything that hasn'
Zinsser's first few chapters talk solely about eliminating clutter and simplifying your work... yet his book is more than 300 pages of repetitive, hypocritical and lengthy sentences. This book could have been easily shortened to 50-100 pages. I was not a fan of his many examples (quite frankly, I skipped over most of them). Most of all, I wish Zinsser followed his own advice - simplify, and trust your material (don't feel the need to explain almost every single principle; we get it). The book, h ...more
Austin James
Yesterday I wrote a post on "How Writing Fiction and Writing Non-Fiction are Different." I started thinking about this subject after reading William Zinsser's "On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction." This is one of those books that has sold over a million copies (Sorry Snooki, it looks like your book hasn't hit 9,000 yet). It's a must read for anyone who writes - especially the non-fiction writer.

The book is divided into four parts...

1. The Principles of Writing: If you can m
Finally! A well written book on writing well. Zinsser presents the concepts clearly, concisely and interestingly - the latter of which is something not easily done in instructional books. He is a terrific writer, which one would think would be a criterion for writing this genre of books. But I've found this is not the case.

Zissner doesn't waste time with schmaltzy examples of how to formulate plots and manufacture characters, but instead focuses on clarity, grammar, story structure and how to ho
Not sure how much I can say about this book, other than it is a great text for people struggling with using grammar rules, and a sort of "storybook" for people who just want to brush up on their writing skills. Zinsser is a much-published author of non-fiction (newspapers, magazines, books), and draws on his many decades and types of experiences to guide other writers in matters of style and substance. His main focus is on helping writers develop "voice" -- the nearly indescribable style that ma ...more
This a clear, thorough guide on writing well and writing authentically. For those who always hesitate to explain the desire to be a writer isn't synonymous with being Hemingway, the author offers a spirited defense of creative nonfiction. He also argues for the interest of the reader, pointing out what may be of interest to you may not translate directly into something someone else wants to read. Reading this in just a few sittings, his strong opinions can grate on ones' nerves at points. His re ...more
I recommend this for anyone--not just people who struggle writing. It's very practical and blunt, and I found lots of helpful tips in it!
Inna Zaichenko
Я имела неосторожность ожидать массу полезных советов от книги. Не удивительно. В интернете ее называют «классическим руководством» и «самой популярной и авторитетной книгой в мире о писательском мастерстве». Более того, она входит в Топ-10 книг для тех, кто хочет хорошо писать МИФа ( и 100+ книг по копирайтингу, изданных на русском языке в блоге Дениса Каплунова. (
Однако, эта книга – для американцев. Американском
Superb, impressive, and of excellent quality. This isn't just for people who only write in specific genres. Every teacher and every student should read this book. Every journalist, every publisher and editor, every book-owner should read this book. Every writer should read this book.

"I'm not saying that fiction is dead. Obviously the novelist can take us into places where no other writer can go: into the deep emotions of interior life. What I'm saying is that I have no patience with the snobbery
Antoinette Perez
When I first read this Zinsser classic, I was 27 years old, and had just been given the daunting new job task of writing one 1500-word white paper every month. On Writing Well (third edition, purchased used and then loaned to a friend, never to be seen again) taught me skills and approaches that boosted my confidence as a writer. The most critical lesson from my first read: edit ruthlessly. I've gotten lazy, but the editing spirit has stayed with me. Even when I don't edit, I still kind of do.

John Mlinar
Let me steal from Hamlet to summarize the book as follows:

POLONIUS [personified as rambling bad writing]
This business is well ended.
My liege and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad.
Mad call I it, for, to define true madness,
What is ’t but to be nothing e
As I read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, I repeatedly thought of Ratatouille, an animated film from Pixar Studios. True, it’s a tenuous connection between the two works. Zinsser’s book was published more than three decades prior to the theatrical release of Ratatouille. And Zinnser’s intended audience (even though he argues in his book that a writer should never write for an intended audience) was likely professional adults whereas the animators of Ratatouille sought only to amuse children a ...more
Dawn Lennon
When a book on writing sells over a million copies, is considered a classic, and has been revised nine times, it promises to uplift and instruct in ways that propel more writers to write better. Zinsser's book was all of that and more. It's both comfort and challenge; connection and liberation. Reading it gives you a sense of community with writers and those who love to read good writing with Zinsser serving as the sage, someone at whose feet you want to sit without ever feeling subjugated.

This book has been recommended to me for over 30 years. I shamefully never had the time to pick it up. I had been writing from adolescence into my mid-thirties, then came to a halt. In the middle of a career change, I was encouraged to start writing again. So I began digging through the trunks of my writing. This book was again suggested as a good starting point. I was wary at first. I knew it would be a struggle and investment. However, I should know better than to question the classics as this ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
  • Writing to Learn: How to Write--And Think--Clearly about Any Subject at All
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
  • Making Sense of Behavior: The Meaning of Control
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
  • Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace
  • Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom from a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights
  • Re-Create Your Life
  • Becoming a Writer
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • The Forest for the Trees
  • Numbers Guide: The Essentials of Business Numeracy
  • Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style
  • The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, with Exercises and Answer Keys
  • The Writing Life
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
  • Bankable Business Plans
William Knowlton Zinsser is an American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher. He began his career as a journalist for the New York Herald Tribune, where he worked as a feature writer, drama editor, film critic, and editorial writer. He has been a longtime contributor to leading magazines.
More about William Zinsser...
Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir The Writer Who Stayed Writing Places Mitchell & Ruff: An American Profile in Jazz Writing with a Word Processor

Share This Book

“Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.” 16 likes
“Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.” 10 likes
More quotes…