On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

Author: William Zinsser
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by lallysingh   2020-10-01
A real human! Welcome! I'm glad to hear from _you_!

One last bit of unsolicited advice: your job is writing. This is the best writing book I've ever read that deals with the issues I saw in your writing: https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-Classic-Guide-Nonfiction...

You can tell the author knows what they're talking about because the book is a really easy read!

by ExisDiff   2019-11-17

I would also recommend this book. I particularly liked how the book advocates for clarity of mind through uncluttered writing. A lot of writing is unnecessarily and bloated, and academia are the masters of it.


by concordiasalus   2019-11-17

There are many things you can do to become better at writing philosophy. Here are a few:


  • Read philosophers who were (or are) good writers of philosophy. Examples include Bertrand Russell, David Lewis, Ted Sider, Jonathan Schaffer, Sally Haslanger, Peter Singer, Daniel Dennett, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum.
  • Read good writers in general. Examples include George Orwell, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Susan Sontag, Henry David Thoreau.
  • Read books that teach how to write well. Examples include On Writing Well by William Zinsser, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams.
  • Read posts and articles which offer writing advice to philosophers and students of philosophy. A list of these can be found here. (Check the comments for even more links.)
  • Finally (and this is the most important thing you can do if you want to get better at writing philosophy): Write more philosophy. Here are a few ways you can do that: (i) Take notes on what you read. These notes don't have to be detailed; their main purpose is to get your thoughts down on paper. When you're done reading, open up a new document (or grab a pen and some paper) and elaborate on those notes. (ii) Respond to something you read, whenever you read. You don't need to write a thesis in response to an article, but writing even a paragraph (or a few) summing up what you've read, laying out the argument, and jotting down your thoughts about it will both help you to retain what you've read, and will serve as good writing practice. (iii) Make an attempt at writing a philosophy paper of your own. It doesn't need to be long, and it doesn't need to be publishable. Simply take an idea you have and argue for it in the way you see philosophers doing in their papers. Then revise it, and revise it again. Make it clearer, make it simpler, tell the reader what you're doing at every step, make every sentence count.


As for finding someone who'd be willing to critique your work: I'd ask here, perhaps on the weekly Open Discussion Thread. You can also PM me; I'm relatively busy, but will try my best to get back to you when I've got the time.

by cutenewt   2019-06-03
Thanks for sharing the Tweets. Two more great resources on how to write well:



by valbaca   2019-06-03
I've taken the class within Amazon.

Honestly there isn't anything that you couldn't get by simply reading and applying the advice from "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White[1] and "On Writing Well" by Zinsser [2].

The primary philosophy is that if you can't write well, then you haven't thought it through. The act of writing is an act of reasoning.

0. Practice in a strong feedback loop. This applies for anything, not just writing.

1. Ruthlessly reduce your sentences. Repeat until you can't eliminate or combine any more words.

2. Avoid adverbs. Use "dashed" or "sprinted" instead of "ran quickly". Learn more words.

3. Avoid weasel words like "should" "could" "might". Take a stance and give concrete reasons.

4. Use concrete data over descriptors. "+5% profit" over "increased profit".

5. Write in active voice. Look up the "by Zombies" trick.

6. Use the simplest word that maintains your meaning. No one needs to use the word "utilize".

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Elements-Style-Fourth-William-Strunk/...

[2]: https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-Classic-Guide-Nonfiction...

by tokenadult   2017-08-19
The excerpted book


is wonderful. I have my doubts about whether the professor who posted that long excerpt on a public website really understands what "fair use" is about in United States copyright law. But if readers read the excerpt after following the link here and then buy the book, that would be a good outcome.

by iamdann   2017-08-19
On Writing Well by William Zinsser (http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-30th-Anniversary-Edition/...) is fantastic. It's not specifically about ad copy, having passion about what you're writing, as well as the fundamentals in this book, will help a ton.
by e12e   2017-08-19
I'm afraid I don't really write enough to comment on how you should get started. Or rather how you should get finished. The idea of noting down ideas, snippets in a book (or digitally) is good. I have a couple of rats nests of small items, and todos, ideas -- 2/3s in various ColorNote[c]s on my Android -- the rest in text files in a mercurial repo).

If the idea you note down is any good today, it'll be a good idea tomorrow too. And a year from now.

If you have enough good starting points, actually spending some time writing out an essay from them becomes easier. Remember you'll probably want to do at least three re-writes if you're hoping the result is going to be any good. Lots of people don't do that -- and it shows. Most half-decent blog posts would've been a lot better if the authors took the time to rework them a bit more. Or, according to Hemmingway: "“The first draft of anything is shit.”

So with the caveat that I don't actually write much (yet?), the best book I've read on writing is: William Zinsser's "On Writing Well": http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-30th-Anniversary-Edition/...

Highly recommended for anyone that have to communicate in writing (ie: everyone).

> I don't have anything to say to people who know less than me, because explaining obvious things seems boring, and I don't know what to say to people on HN/LessWrong, because I feel like they are smarter than me and already know everything I am about to say.

For essays, it can be good to write for yourself. To yourself, or someone much like yourself, but someone who's perhaps not yet encountered one particular idea, one particular technique -- one particular subject.

That usually gives a good framework for avoid "talking down". Write to yourself of one, two or five years ago. There will be many that don't have that last year, years of experience and circumstance that led you down the path to were you are now. Perhaps such a perspective makes it easier for you to share something?

[c] http://www.colornote.com/download.html

I mostly use Colornote to keep track of ideas, such as app/application/project ideas along with a couple of bulletpoints (eg: Reinvent email: look into alternative client/server sync such as jmap; store email in normalized sql db?; document db?; store attachments based on content hash? (free de-dup); Store email body as same? (Good for multi-user server support for mailinglists ... etc))