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On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  14,466 Ratings  ·  1,001 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 April 5th 2016 by Harper Perennial (first published 1976)
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Owen Chesemore Buy it on the Amazon store, or a bookstore if it is sold nearby. Not currently knowing where you live I do not know if it sold in your closest library…moreBuy it on the Amazon store, or a bookstore if it is sold nearby. Not currently knowing where you live I do not know if it sold in your closest library if you have one. I hope this is helpful.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rowena
Aug 27, 2013 Rowena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
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.
Francisco
Oct 17, 2015 Francisco rated it it was amazing
How do you learn to write, really, other than by writing. But now and then, it's good to pause and think about the art of good writing, the craft. This famous little book can be the reflective pause that will help you be care-full, love-full, with your work. The book is not just more of the same old stuff you've always heard. The advice given by the author is creative and his examples of good writing are informative and insightful. And because good writing is always connected to the inner life a ...more
Thomas
Feb 19, 2016 Thomas rated it really liked it
A straightforward guide to writing solid nonfiction. William Zinsser offers sound advice, including how to eliminate clutter and ways to target your audience. He spans several genres within nonfiction, ranging from sports writing to travel articles to memoir. He incorporates several example passages from his favorite writers and from his own work.

On Writing Well provided tangible, quality writing tips. It did not excite me, though. Zinsser has a somewhat eurocentric perspective and his writing s
...more
Katelyn Beaty
Jun 27, 2007 Katelyn Beaty rated it really liked it
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
John
Jan 30, 2012 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
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
...more
Lotz
Oct 17, 2015 Lotz rated it liked it
Shelves: prose-style
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
...more
Shanae
Apr 29, 2012 Shanae rated it did not like it
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
Steven
Mar 27, 2008 Steven rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Alissa
Sep 07, 2010 Alissa rated it it was ok
Shelves: manuals
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
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Oct 28, 2013 ♥ Ibrahim ♥ rated it it was amazing

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
...more
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
Michael Spotts
Jun 27, 2012 Michael Spotts rated it it was amazing
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
Volodymyr Dehtyarov
Книга 5 из 52 #однакнигавнеделю Я увидел рецензию на книгу, кажется, у Дениса Довгополого и сразу ее купил в электронной версии для Kindle и в бумажной, чтобы оставить в офисе. Зинсер пишет просто и убедительно. На своем примере и отрывках из текстов других авторов он показывает, как писать просто, без словесного мусора, как подбирать нужные слова и следить за логикой текста. Отдельные главы посвящены текстам о людях, местах и путешествиях, спорте, искусстве, интервью и мемуарах. Не знаю, буду л ...more
Cathy DuPont
Feb 11, 2014 Cathy DuPont rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

 Milica Pavlović
Apr 17, 2016 Milica Pavlović rated it liked it
Shelves: classics
It gives writer a comfort, which i definitely needed.
But if you`re a beginner i don`t think it would be helpful for you but you should read this book at some point.


"Telling a writer to relax is like telling a man to relax while
being examined for a hernia, and as for confidence, see how
stiffly he sits, glaring at the screen that awaits his words. See
how often he gets up to look for something to eat or drink. A
writer will do anything to avoid the act of writing. I can testify
from my newspaper days
...more
Schuyler
Jan 06, 2015 Schuyler rated it really liked it
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
...more
Barnabas Piper
Aug 16, 2015 Barnabas Piper rated it it was amazing
Stephen King's "On Writing" is my favorite on the subject, but Zinsser might be even more useful. A classic for good reason.
Micah
Jan 30, 2016 Micah rated it it was amazing
I have not looked at the written word the same way since I started reading this book. Wish I had read it sooner.
Elena Grahovac
Jul 27, 2014 Elena Grahovac rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Viviana D. Otero
Jan 31, 2011 Viviana D. Otero rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-top-twenty
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
Daniel
Apr 02, 2016 Daniel rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Taka
Apr 09, 2010 Taka rated it it was ok
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'
...more
Tim
Jun 17, 2016 Tim rated it it was amazing
Excellent book for anyone with a need or inclination to write non-fiction. While written primarily for the aspiring professional writer, there are plenty of lessons here for those who merely need to write in their profession, or for those who want to write for personal enrichment.

Trisha
Mar 19, 2016 Trisha rated it really liked it
I wouldn’t have found this book were it not for Michael Dirda, book columnist for the Washington Post and author of several books devoted to the pleasures of reading and the authors he admires. His latest (Browsings) begins with a chapter devoted to William Zinsser. When Dirda said On Writing Well is both a classic guide as well as commonplace book filled with wonderful quotations from books that are well worth reading, I immediately ordered a copy from the library. I’ll probably get my own just ...more
Rosie Nguyễn
Jul 27, 2015 Rosie Nguyễn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
A must read for those whose works relate to writing: students, teachers, businessmen, reporters, and of course, writers. Very useful tips along with very witty style. And above all, a man with high passion, virtue and responsibility with his job.
M. Pierce
Mar 04, 2015 M. Pierce rated it it was amazing
Amazing book, great writing advice. An all-time favorite of mine.
Jenny
Aug 02, 2016 Jenny rated it it was amazing
This book was brilliant. I borrowed it from the library, but I will buy it now for future reference. I recommend it to everyone, and I'm serious. Everyone should read this book, whether you're a principal that sends updates home to parents, a manager that types memos to employees, a blogger, dreamer, or scientific professional who puts your work into words, even if only on occasion. Anyone at all can benefit. Mr. Zinsser is no doubt an excellent writer and teacher, and the reader benefits from b ...more
Austin James
Jan 28, 2011 Austin James rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing-books
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
...more
James
Jul 01, 2016 James rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Ashley
Nov 02, 2012 Ashley rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-writing
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
...more
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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.
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“Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.” 27 likes
“Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.” 20 likes
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