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Writing to Learn: How to Write--And Think--Clearly about Any Subject at All
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Writing to Learn: How to Write--And Think--Clearly about Any Subject at All

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  255 ratings  ·  43 reviews
This is an essential book for everyone who wants to write clearly about any subject and use writing as a means of learning.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 4th 1993 by Harper Perennial (first published 1988)
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Jonathan
If you’ve read On Writing Well, you should read this book too. If you haven’t, you should read them both. Writing to Learn does a great job of summarizing the idea of “Writing Across the Curriculum.” It gives examples, justifications, and inspiration. I would sum up the book like this:
1. Writing helps us think.
2. Clear writing is clear thinking.
3. You can (and should to truly learn) about any subject.
4. Everyone (not just “writers”) writes.
5. We learn by imitation.
6. Every subject is acces
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Megan
About six years ago I spent such a happy afternoon in the Melbourne library, reading Zinsser's On Writing Well (similar in style and content to Strunk and White's Elements of Style), I was happy to pick up another of his books when it came my way. The opening chapters were exciting: Zinsser wrote well about the pains and rewards of writing, and made an eloquent case that society (especially the educated, business class) has gone to the dogs by way of 'office-speak' and 'bureaucratese.' He even c ...more
Poiema
In one of my recent reads, Writing to Learn, William Zinsser makes the challenge to write about something that is intangible rather than concrete. For example, a music lesson. It is one thing to write descriptively about a work of art or a photograph~~~the reader can LOOK at what is being discussed. But to describe a musical technique requires the ability to conjure up sensory information of a different sort. In the author's own words:

"Writing about music also made me a better musician. The nee
...more
Brian Eshleman
I expected instruction on how to enjoy what we learned by writing reflectively about it. What I got was a warm and engaging memoir that also conveyed the former. This author provides a kindred spirit to those who are curious about more than their essential daily function, and he will encourage this, and he will encourage it in any reader in whom curiosity has become just a flicker. He makes every field he touches accessible, and he encourages us to share his zest for life.
Rebecca
Nov 15, 2007 Rebecca rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: teachers, writers, learners
Shelves: nonfiction
Zinsser's book is both an anthology and a narrative about his experience with the concept of "writing across the curriculum." He recounts how good writing in other fields helped break down his misconception that certain subjects were, at best boring, or at worst, unlearnable. He posits that writing is the best way for students to engage with material--any material.

Through carefully selected reading examples and personal examples, William Zinsser engages with the natural world, art, physics, mus
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Terri
What a clever idea, to write about all subjects and not relegate writing to a grammar or English class. I always thought the made up writing assignments in English class were insipid and contrived.

William Zinsser suggests that writing can be taught using courses like science, math, philosophy, etc. He puts forth the idea that if you can learn to make other subjects clear and even fascinating. But beware, there's no easy way to teach writing.

He feels that many Americans never learn to write well
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Hurston
May 01, 2008 Hurston rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: writers, students, educators, curious people / learners
Zinsser's premise is that you can learn a subject, any subject, by writing about it. Writing forces you to do research, organize your thoughts, process the subject matter, and put it in your words. He also proposes that any subject (nuclear physics, microbiology) is approachable if the writer takes the time to write clearly, succinctly, and well. I enjoyed the book and I got a long list of to-read books from the many quotations of examples of well-written works.
John Sorensen
The book was fine, it just wasn't what I was expecting. This book was recommended, but I did not pay enough attention. The author wants to gather examples of great writing across the spectrum of humanities, arts and hard sciences and provides examples from these genres. Informative and interesting. I thought that this was going to be more of a how-to book as opposed to a show-case of great writing.
Kerry
This book was an interesting read, especially if you deal with writers in a professional sense as an editor or as a writer. That said, it is not a how-to guide. What it does is get the reader thinking about how writing can complement and supplement a person's understanding of any subject. As a writer, I'm not sure this book did much for me. As an editor, I found it enlightening, interesting, and enjoyable. It's easy to suggest to someone that thoughts need to be put down in an orderly fashion an ...more
Katy
I could not put this down. It was not as much instructive as thought provoking and delightfully written. HIGHLY recommend to anyone involved in education in any capacity.
David Kent
William Zinsser epitomizes the writing he teaches. His language is tight. His "On Writing Well" is a classic. With "Writing to Learn" he talks to us about writing on topics you don't know, using his own experiences - and fears - as insights. The book got its start when Zinsser was asked for input on a new idea called "writing across curriculum." Technical disciplines such as mathematics, the sciences, and the arts, where writing was generally ignored, would require writing as part of the coursew ...more
Elizabeth
I enjoyed the examples of writing from various fields, but I was more interested in the idea of figuring out what you know through the writing process.
Cassandra
TLDR: I was already convinced of the main points, writing is thinking, writing is for everyone, we should teach writing, before borrowing this book from the library. I wanted some more reflection on the process of writing as thinking. My engineering conditioning prevents me from spending the time pouring through all of the anecdotes to get the nuggets that might be generalizable. I can find them in other books, like Write to Learn by Donald M. Murray. There are a couple chapters I will photocopy ...more
Derrick Smith
One of the most important books I've ever read...
Benjamin Djang
Good writing is the result of good thinking. This book dispelled my notion that writing is an activity reserved for students and scholars of the humanities and the social sciences. Good writing is the result of good thinking and, as William Zinsser shows, anyone from any field can produce good writing. Yes, even mathematicians and scientists can write well. Zinsser explores a variety of fields including anthropology, science, history, art history, mathematics, and provides examples of excellent ...more
Amanda
This felt good to read. The book was about good writing and I felt like I could understand what he meant by good writing. It was also about writing across the curriculum and demonstrating how writing has a place in every discipline. The writing mathematics chapter was so inspiring. It made me want to teach. The writing about humans was also inspiring. It featured a cell biologist writing a memoir. It made me want to write a memoir. The book demonstrated that every subject has literature. But add ...more
Geoff Noble
This book is built on an interesting concept. The power of writing should be used across multiple disciplines and not just in the English classroom. The book is about writing in plain English and takes aim at those who hide behind jargon and are obsessed with sounding intelligent. The book has two parts. The first deals with writing in general while the second has many examples of writing across different disciplines (from mathematics to arts). I enjoyed the book and recommend it.
Robert JA  Basilio Jr.
Jul 17, 2007 Robert JA Basilio Jr. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone planning to write, especially non-fiction
Published in 1988--as part of his Writing series (Zinsser, after all, is the author of On Writing Well which remains a classic and Writing with a Word Processor which was produced just about the time those in the writing trade became familiar with computers, among others)--this book emphasizes two things. One, you don't have to be a so-called "writer" to be a good writer but--and here is the second point--to be a good writer, you must master your subject, something which self-proclaimed journali ...more
Storrs
Jan 08, 2014 Storrs added it
Shelves: writer-workshop
Education seems to have embraced the inspiration for this book, published in 1988, of writing across the curriculum, but the message of this book is still relevant. Writing does not need to be, should not be, frightening or intimidating. We use it to discuss what we know and want to know. It enables people to communicate, discover, and discuss any subject or discipline and should therefore be embraced. The author illustrates writing and its writers doing just that from of a range of fields, and ...more
Randal.ellsworth
As fun as it is informative

Few books on writing are fun and immersive like this one is. Part one is great for looking at learning through a new lens: writing. Part 2 is a wild ride through writing in various disciplines, from chemistry to anthropology, with entertaining and informative style.
Jocelyn
Zinsser sets out to encourage "writing across the curriculum." He emphasizes that clear writing requires clear thinking; therefore, if you want your students to think clearly, have them write. He shares examples of great writing in diverse disciplines: geology; visual arts; mathematics; anthropology; music. He highlights the usual techniques: logical exposition; strong verbs; Anglo-Saxon words; voice.

The book provides an interesting overview but as a practical guide it's not much use. There is n
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Michael Benner
I liked it. Shows you more than tells you how to write good non-fiction. Helps you find your own style without being afraid to break a few rules.
Colin
An excellent book, though readers looking for hard-and-fast mechanical instruction might find themselves disappointed - much of the advice in Writing To Learn is given by liberal quotation of authors admired by Zinnser for their lucidity.

Zinnser wisely frames the potentially dry subject material with entertaining autobiographical asides; his participation in a writing project at a snowbound university, travels in Europe, his admiration for his fellows and friends at Yale. I'd recommend it to an
...more
Miriam
I liked the way that Zinsser structured this book; instead of focusing on the "thou shalt nots," he gave several examples of "thou shalts" by various authors in various disciplines and discussed why he liked them. There is not a lot of concrete writing advice, but it is a good book for anybody who is involved with Writing Across the Curriculum classes or knows somebody who doesn't understand why an engineer/biologist/musician/X needs to learn how to write clearly and effectively.
Kathleen
Every college student needs this book as armor against the notion that just "going through the motions" to "get your A" is sufficient to call oneself educated.
Carlos Mueses
An interesting intro to writing and its benefits. Writing helps to create a clear path of thought, organize ideas and deliver exactly the message we want.
Lauren
Disappointing, but had some good parts. While I hoped the book would examine the actual process of "writing to learn," it instead gave excerpts from exemplary works in various fields. The chapter on writing about math was particularly bad, since no good example was given, only the ramblings of seventh-graders trying to complete their homework.
Marfy
Not only is Zinsser a great writer, but this book is full of the great writing of others who do not profess to be writers. Each example Zinsser presents is fascinating and memorable. Only question, I haven't learned yet from the examples given how these writers learned from the act of writing.
Joel Johnson
If you don't read different subjects and don't write particularily well. This book was helpful. It talks about organizing your writing in a simple form so anyone can comprehend the message. It gives examples of writing across many fields of study from physics to music.
Tabea
At first I was confused what kind of book I am reading. It certainly isn't a how-to and also not any other genre I could think of. By the end of it, I didn't care and just enjoyed the ride, wanting to read the works Zinsser quotes more and more.
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William Knowlton Zinsser (born October 7, 1922) is a writer, editor, 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, and has been a longtime contributor to leading magazines.

In his books, Zinsser emphasizes word economy. Author James J. Kilpatrick, in his book The Writer's Art sa
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More about William Knowlton Zinsser...
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher The Writer Who Stayed

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“Whenever I listen to an artist or an art historian I'm struck by how much they see and how much they know--and how much I don't.

Good art writing should therefore do at least two things. It should teach us how to look: at art, architecture, sculpture, photography and all the other visual components of our daily landscape. And it should give us the information we need to understand what we're looking at.”
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“Probably no subject is too hard if people take the trouble to think and write and read clearly.” 0 likes
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