William Zinsser is an American writer, editor, and teacher renowned for his book On Writing Well. This classic guide to nonfiction writing has sold over 1.5 million copies. It offers clear, concise advice on grammar, style, structure, and writing. Zinsser writes conversationally, sharing examples and anecdotes from his own writing experiences. Writers of all levels find On Writing Well a valuable reference.
Recently, I read this book and thought it prudent to take notes and remind myself of the critical points for future reference.
Simplicity is key: use plain language to communicate effectively.
Zinsser emphasizes the value of simplicity in writing. He advises writers to use the language of everyday life to communicate effectively. Simple words make writing easier to comprehend and guarantee that the message is conveyed accurately. This allows writers to connect with their audience and create more effective writing.
Know your audience: tailor your writing to the person you’re writing for.
Zinsser stresses the need to understand the reader before starting to write. He advises writers to think about the age and background of their audience and use language suitable for them. They should also include information that is meaningful to the reader. Knowing the reader helps writers make their writing relevant and appealing.
Clutter is your enemy: avoid unnecessary words, phrases, and details.
Zinsser warns us that clutter is detrimental to good writing. He advises writers to be exact, judicious and mindful when selecting words, phrases and details for their work. Writers should strive to eliminate any superfluous words or phrases that do not contribute to the overall message. This will make the writing more concise and effective, making it simpler for readers to comprehend.
Show, don’t tell: use vivid descriptions to bring your writing to life.:
Zinsser encourages writers to “show” rather than “tell”. He believes that vivid descriptions and imagery can help to bring the writing alive and make it more appealing. By doing so, the writer can create a clear image in the reader’s mind, making their work more captivating.
Use active voice: make your writing more direct and engaging.
Zinsser emphasizes the need for an active voice in writing. He states that it makes the writing more direct, interesting, and easier to comprehend. Active voice also helps to make the writing more succinct.
Choose the right words: use the most appropriate words to get your point across.
Zinsser stresses the significance of selecting the right words when writing. He explains that writers should aim to pick the most suitable words for their goal, to accurately express their message and make their writing comprehensible. This way, writers can guarantee their writing is effective and captivating.
Start with the basics: practice the fundamentals of good writing.
Zinsser encourages writers to first learn the basics of writing—grammar, punctuation, and spelling—while developing their unique style. This will help them feel more confident in their writing and make sure their work is accurate and persuasive.
Edit ruthlessly: cut out anything that doesn’t add value to your writing.
William Zinsser emphasizes the necessity of editing and revising while writing. He advises writers to be uncompromising in eliminating anything that does not add to the work. This technique helps to make the writing concise and the message clear and impactful.
Know the rules: understand the rules of grammar and punctuation.
Zinsser encourages writers to understand the rules of grammar and punctuation. He emphasizes that this will make their work accurate and professional. Taking the time to learn these rules can make writing more effective and guarantee that the writer’s message is conveyed accurately.
Read widely: read different kinds of writing to improve your own.
Zinsser urges writers to read extensively. He believes that by exploring various writing styles, writers can expand their understanding and create their own distinct writing style. Additionally, reading widely can motivate and inspire writers, and provide them with ideas for their writing.
Use simple sentences: keep your sentences short and to the point.:
Zinsser emphasizes the power of short and direct sentences. He explains that simple sentences are easier to comprehend and make writing more efficient and effective. Using simple sentences ensures that the message is conveyed clearly and quickly.
Don’t be afraid to experiment: try out different writing styles.
Zinsser urges writers to experiment with their writing. He believes that exploring different writing styles helps writers to gain knowledge and refine their writing. It also enables them to find their own voice and style, making their work more personal and alluring.
Make it personal: add your own voice and experiences to your writing.:
Zinsser stresses the importance of adding a personal touch to writing. He encourages writers to use their own experiences, observations, and opinions to add life to their work and make it more interesting for the reader. By doing this, writers can make their writing more authentic and engaging.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: learn from your mistakes and move on.
Zinsser encourages writers to make mistakes and to use them as an opportunity for growth. He stresses that mistakes are an essential part of the learning process, and writers should not be afraid to make them. By learning from their mistakes, writers can improve their work and become better writers.
Be specific: use concrete details and examples to make your point.
For example, instead of saying “I’m a hard worker,” you could say “I’m a dedicated employee who consistently puts in extra hours to ensure projects are completed on time and to the highest standard.”