On Writing Well

I am reading this book to improve my writing. Zinsser shares his knowledge across three Parts.

Part 1

1.2 Simplicity

Zinsser (2001) brings up good points about how we can elevate our writing by making it as simple as possible as "the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components" (p. 7).
It doesn't matter who we write for but we should assume that "the reader is someone with an attention span of about 30 seconds" (p. 9) and it is the task of each writer to constantly ask themselves: "What am I trying to say?" and "Have I said it?" (p. 12).

1.3 Clutter

In Chapter 1.3, Zinsser discusses what he defines as clutter: "the laborious phrase that has pushed out the short word that means the same thing" (p. 14) and advises on reducing clutter by urging us to "consider all prepositions that are draped onto verbs that don't need any help" (p. 12).

1.4 Style

Zinsser urges to write with strong verbs otherwise "your sentences will fall apart" (p. 19). I really like the analogy he brings up on the same page, about how to keep it plain and simple and how to take satisfaction in that. No need to reinvent the wheel or "to make an impression" (p. 20). What matters is to "believe in your own identity and your own opinions" (p. 24).

1.5 The Audience

Even though this sub-chapter is about the authors relationship to his audience I think the point about how to simplify, prune, strive for order, and how it being a mechanical act is very interesting. This is a great point that can be extended beyond writing to a ton of situations. Related to the audience the only point worth of noting is that you should not "say anything in writing that you wouldn't comfortably say in conversation" (p. 27). Be yourself!

1.6 Words

Zinsser writes that "Writing is learning by imitation" and to "get in the habit of using a dictionary" (p. 35).

7. Usage

8. Unity

Unity is the anchor of good writing, Zinsser shares with the reader (p. 50).
He discusses three choices of unity:

9. The lead and the ending

In this subchapter Zinsser defines the first sentence to have the most importance and how it has to induce the reader to proceed to the second one (p. 55). A good lead has to draw the reader into your article and each following sentence has to amplify the previous one (p. 56).

10. Bits and pieces

I think this chapter was my most favorite so far. Zinsser shares a lot of knowledge related to different topics:


Use active verbs, they are the most important of our tools, as they give a sentence momentum. Use active verbs and be precise.


Most are unnecessary


Make them do work that needs to be done, otherwise they are pure decoration (p. 71)

Little qualifiers

I very much identify with Zinssers idea about pruning out the small words:
"Don't say you were a bit confused and sort of tired. [...] Be confused. Be tired. (p. 71)
Every little qualifier weakens the authors position.



Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. Quill/HarperResource, 2001.