Celine's Reviews > On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

On Writing Well by William Zinsser
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's review
Nov 15, 11

bookshelves: advisory-12th, advisory-12-quarter-1
Read from October 23 to November 04, 2011

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
By William Knowlton Zinsser
336pp New York
Harper Paperbacks $14.99
ISBN: 978-0-06-089154-1

There are numerous genres of books out there, and writing each one requires a different approach from the others. In On Writing Well,, William Zinsser, a writer, critic, editor, and teacher, puts together an amazing collection of guidelines that teaches the reader how to write accordingly. He cuts to the chase and gives the dos and don’ts of many different styles of writing, whether it be business articles, interviews, nonfiction, travelogues, science articles, memoirs, sports, or critical articles.

Zinsser dedicated a few chapters to the ideas he tries hardest to get across: “declutter” your writing, don’t be pretentious, have faith in your own voice and identity, and use precise words. He is a strong advocate of short writing that is concise and to the point. He warns about writing that takes on different paths, for sticking to one form or idea is what makes the piece unified. As with the lead and conclusions that people, like myself, may have trouble with, he offers a few rules: leads that are capable of telling the entire story in one sentence will definitely hook the reader, and don’t merely restate in your conclusion.

Once the general information is soaked in, Zinsser goes into the specifics–using verbs, adjectives, and nouns appropriately. He encourages the usage of verbs that are actually active and teaches the reader when to use adverbs when necessary. We have probably picked up the basics in school, but Zinsser was able to re-teach me the information in a more enjoyable way.

Then the book goes on to focus on specific genres of writing. With each style of writing, comes a different format to write in, a different tone to speak to the reader in, and a different perspective to look in. Some of my favorite tips were: actually interview someone who touches some corner of the reader’s life, write like a human and not a scientist, and be personal. What I found most important to take away though was: don’t alter your voice to fit the subject, and develop a voice that readers will recognize.

Although the book is boring at times, it was not a tedious read. The entire book, which was meant to be a guidebook, actually seemed like a story and Zinsser was not just spitting information out continously. His language was very friendly and surprisingly not condescending at all. I would recommend this book to anyone in or above high school. It is a great book to read, especially when one plans on writing an important essay or perfecting his/her craft.

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