Friday, June 15, 2001

Review: ‘On Writing Well’ by William Zinsser

A colleague recommended this book to me, upon hearing about my ambition to be a syndicated newspaper columnist. After reading it, I can see why.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser belongs on the bookshelf of every serious non-fiction writer. This is a book I plan to read again and again.

People who write for a living (newspaper reporters and columnists, for example) will find this book to be of value, but it also has much to offer for people in any vocation that requires effective communication.

If you think clearly, you can write clearly, argues Mr. Zinsser, and then explains, step-by-step, how to do so.

Mr. Zinsser writes with a very engaging and approachable style. With the book now in its sixth edition, he has had considerable time to improve his delivery. The end result is a book that is very entertaining, as well as a valuable resource.

I have only one disagreement with Mr. Zinsser, and that is when he states, "Unlike medicine or the other sciences, writing has no new discoveries to spring on us. We're in no danger of reading in our morning newspaper that a breakthrough has been made in how to write a clear English sentence."

In my opinion, the English language is constantly evolving. Maybe sentence structure will remain the same, but our vocabulary will continually change as new words enter the language as slang and later become accepted terms.

Could anyone have imagined that "granny flat" would become part of our language? Or how about the examples that Mr. Zinsser cites in recounting his experiences upon the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary --"rambunctious," "trigger," "rile," "shambles," "tycoon," "trek" and "escalate."

Evolution of the English language remains unfinished. With the pronoun "he" being problematic for avoiding perceptions of sexism, use of a gender-neutral pronoun may someday become widespread. Maybe the next writer who reads Mr. Zinsser's book will apply its teachings to ger own writing. Gen will then go on to win a Pullitzer Prize.

Posted June 15, 2001 to amazon.com