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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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  578 Ratings  ·  65 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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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.

Generalization is o
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
Shelves: education
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Derrick Smith
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
One of the most important books I've ever 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.
Dele Omotosho
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a huge fan of William Zinsser, this book doesn't disappoint on allow you to look at other subject, learning from it via writing.

It covers a range of interesting disciple, more as a memoir than an how-to.
May 09, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Worst book on writing in the world.
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, own, writing
Good ideas but I marked him a star down for the occasional pomposity. Still a good book though.
Nov 07, 2016 rated it liked it
This was genuinely helpful. A much needed tonic for anyone who feels—as I often do—that they need to read all that there is to be read on an issue before writing about it.
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good source to find good writing in the humanistic style for science. (That was why I chose to read it.) This is a quick and interesting read written by a journalist/professor.
May 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Another excellent book by Zinsser about the art of writing. This one focuses on how writing helps you to think clearly, helps you to organize your ideas, shows you what you know and what you still need to learn, and introduces you to new areas of knowledge, and then shows how this method works in all areas of learning not just the language arts.

The first half of the book talks about the method and how it was applied in various settings, also how it helped Zinsser himself to get over his fears o
Deane Barker
Jun 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Unfortunately, I didn't like this book, and it pains me to write this, since I had just finished "On Writing Well" for the third time, and it's amazing. But this just didn't do anything for me.

Zinsser presents this as an examination of writing non-fiction, and how this type of writing can hekp you understand subjects. Throughout the book, he has a running commentary about a "writing across the curriculum" program at Gustavus Adolphus college, just up the road from me in St. Peter, MN.
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
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
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
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Robert JA  Basilio Jr.
Jun 21, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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
David Kent
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The author is sure that writing is the main tool for acquiring knowledges. The way to good writing itself is imitating the best writers. The author puts the reader in a company of brilliant writers working in many disciplines. Reading examples from their books and papers it's absolutely impossible not to get the taste for good style.
William made his book very personal. Sometimes lyrical digressions about the author's biography are annoying. Nevetheless the book does its work and I consider it us
Jan 06, 2014 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
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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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“Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know—and what we don’t know—about whatever we’re trying to learn.” 2 likes
“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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