5 Ideas From ‘On Writing Well’:

William Zinsser’s book shows you how to write well by using a recursive approach. In that, the book itself is so well written. It is gripping and a page turner. For a how to book on the subject of nonfiction writing that’s amazing. Zinsser presents many examples of good and bad writing and tells multiple interesting stories along the way. There are sections on different high level topics such as how to select words or setup leads and endings. In addition there are separate sections on how to approach different types of writing such as science or sports. Here are 5 ideas that stayed with me after reading the book recently on paperback

Use Simple Words:

Zinsser strongly suggest using the simplest words that will do the job of communicating. This idea is emphasized over and over in the book. Simple words invite your readers in and are more understandable. One syllable words are better than two. Two is better than three. Zinsser talks about the inclination of most new writers to choose uncommon words or fancy words or jargon to differentiate themselves to make their writing more original. This is a mistake he warns. It looks clumsy and pretentious. So stick to simple, easy and short words.

Rewriting is the essence of writing well.

Rewriting is going over your writing and working on your words, sentences, paragraphs and flow. You rewrite your writing as many times until you are satisfied as a writer. This is a process Zinsser himself uses similar to many other writers. While rewriting you look for simpler words, shorter sentences. You try to find unneeded words, sentences and paragraphs. This approach felt very similar to refactoring practice in programming. Refactoring is improving the structure of the code without changing its function. Rewriting is the restructuring of your writing without changing the meaning.

Put people in all writing:

People’s actions, reactions, emotions makes any subject more interesting. If you are writing about science put some details about scientist as a person in. If you are writing about locations include details about the people in those locations. If you are writing about yourself or your daily life put your feelings and emotions into your piece.

You are writing for yourself:

Don’t think about what the readers want or what the editors prefer to publish. What you are writing should be interesting to you first. Readers don’t know what they want until they see it. If you are writing primarily to enjoy yourself your enthusiasm will show in the work and that will bring and hold onto readers.

Go with your interests:

Any topic you have an interest in can be engaging for your readers. Take it seriously and put yourself in.


Zinsser died in 2015. Washington Post Obit

5 Ideas from "On Writing Well" 2020-08-29