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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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  775 ratings  ·  88 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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Average rating 3.95  · 
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Roy Lotz
Oct 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Humor is the most perilous of writing forms, full of risk; to make a vocation of brightening the reader’s day is an act of continuing gallantry.

Specialization inspires in me a certain existential dread. This is of two sorts. The first is the despairing thought that, by specializing, I will come to know only a certain, restricted corner of the vast universe. The second, more puerile fear is that, by becoming a specialist, I will commit myself on a path I won’t like very much.

Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Anne White
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
For anyone interested in the definition and use of "living books" in education, this is full of good examples and ponderings. It might be useful to accompany the topical chapters (such as "how to read social science") in Adler's How to Read a Book.
Neil R. Coulter
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, editing
I’ve read On Writing Well several times (and am having my writing students read it this semester), but I hadn’t read anything else by William Zinsser. I picked up Writing to Learn, planning to read a chapter or two a day—but I just couldn’t put it down. I find Zinsser to be one of the most addictive writers, so easy to read. Even when I don’t quite agree with him, he’s a lot of fun.

Some of this book overlaps with On Writing Well (and they complement each other perfectly), but Zinsser’s main poin
Nov 09, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Brian Eshleman
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this and _On Writing Well_ back when the books were only a few years old and I was teaching my first ever classes -- freshman composition. Zinsser is such an easy (apparently) writer and thinker that I don't know why I haven't come back to these again and again.

Easily remedied.
Tom McCleary
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beyond being instructional on what makes for good writing, this book introduced me to some books that I have added to my ever-growing "want to read" list.
Soundarya Balasubramani
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
As the title states, William dives deep into all subjects you can imagine and shows they can be written in a manner that appeals to everyone. I would read any book from William Zinsser simply because of his command over the language.
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
a real page turner for a book that helps you write better. Worth at least another time.
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a treat for 'generalists' that are curious about all subject matters and want to write about them, be it Mathematics, Sciences or Humanities! And you CAN successfully write about mathematics, chemistry and music in clear and plain English because Zissner will show you that you can. Chock full of examples exploring how the knowledgeable Greats of their subjects/fields have managed to do this with aplomb. This book is a handbook for people of any academic background who have ever felt ...more
Jul 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: teachers, writers, learners
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
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
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-52-books
Excellent writing book!

The first section was the best! I appreciated Zissner's tone, his practical help and the very idea that writing to learn is essential. I took a lot of notes, not just for me as a professional writer but also as a homeschooling mother & writing tutor. Not only were the examples well-written, they were educational too. I'm going to buy this book for my writing library.
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 05, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Derrick Smith
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
One of the most important books I've ever read...
Adam Leon
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-sci-fi
It took me exceptionally longer to get through this book than many others in the style of nonfiction talking about writing than I'd like to admit (roughly a whole week). The book is short, roughly 240 pages realistically (if you take out acknowledgements) and even shorter if you take out the hundreds of paragraphs he quotes from other works of literature across the scientific field (I would argue maybe only 180 pages).

The problem with this book is that there is only a handful of real pieces of
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: teaching-myself
"...writing isn't something that only 'writers' do; writing is a basic skill for getting through life."

Zinsser first published this work back in 1988, and even now 31 years later, those words still hold true, now probably more than ever in our internet age. We communicate every single day through writing, through social media, instant messaging, texts, blog posts, comments sections, and that's just counting the things we do in our downtime! At work we write memos, emails, reports, and who knows
Thomas Anstett
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Zinsser's effort in this book about writing veers into various disciplines with specific examples from primary sources representing quality evidence of clear writing appropriate for that specific discipline because each chapter fosters sufficient proof that writing across the curriculum is not only possible, but necessary to validate students' complete education, an education that substantiates full circle of thinking.

There. I tried my best to violate Zinsser's basic fundamentals of clear writin
Scott Pearson
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
While alive, Zinsser was our era’s guru on writing. Besides bestselling On Writing Well, he left us with a cadre of lesser-known works on how to communicate effectively. This work chronicles how to write educational pieces and is replete with examples from a variety of fields, ranging from music to geology and from physics to art.

Zinsser’s authority is relatively unquestioned in the popular sphere. I do question whether his writing principles are indeed universal, especially when it comes to wor
Laura Alonso
Quite a disappointment to be honest - Zinsser's other book on my list (On Writing Well) is worlds apart from this one. Yes, writing is about putting your thoughts in order but I feel like this book lacks actual depth on what it claims on its title. Every single quoted passage is about how the author feels when he reads it, how interesting it is, but there's a lack of analysis of what is being quoted, what makes it work, or any criticism or feedback on what could have been done differently.

Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Zinsser will leave a great legacy of teaching thousands to write. I was introduced to “On writing well” in 2005 and try to read it once a year. Inevitably I pick up some new bit of wisdom to guide and speak to me while I work. This book is less instructional and more anecdotal. It is refreshing to read complex ideas explained well - with precision and logic across disciplines. Some inherently more interesting to me than others, but nonetheless the sage unfolding of instruction is captivating. I ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Great concept -- using writing to solidify learning and being proactive about it!!!

This idea is more powerfully expressed by Peter Elbow in his multiple books about writing (i.e. "Writing With Power"), also by Mark Levy, who was inspired by Elbow, in his excellent book "Accidental Genius".

Zinsser does provide excellent writing examples from of specialists across many disciplines. This is useful but with a less precise aim to the book's announced purpose (at least what its title suggests). The b
Marcus Kazmierczak
A good book that shows the importance of writing as a means of learning, regardless of subject. The first half was a little more interesting, Zinsser discovers that you can learn by writing and how some schools are using writing as tool to improve thinking and learning in all subjects.

The second half is good, but harder to engage with. It is a collection of good writing samples from various authors on various subject. Zinsser discusses the aspects that makes the writing interesting, so its read
Kasujja Xavier
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Reading Zinsser's work on writing one's way to deeper learning was what I can only describe — for lack of a better expression — a very wholesome experience. I would recommend this book to all students and perhaps anyone undertaking a rather challenging intellectual pursuit.
Christopher Walker
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
'Writing to Learn' was precisely the book I needed to read at precisely this time. It is another classic by the scholarly-yet-approachable William Zinsser that both motivates and instructs. I feel two things right now: a pressing and urgent need to write about anything and everything, and a great desire to go out and teach good composition to anyone who will listen. Thank you, Mr Zinsser.
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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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