On Writing Well

You know a book is good when you have to read it a 2nd time…

Or a 3rd or 4th for that matter! I love when I find books like that. Ones that can stay in my permanent library and won’t be sold on Amazon or sent to the thrift store.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser is just such a book…

It’s a great read and is chock full of great information and examples about writing. I believe I originally found it on the Personal MBA 99 Best Business Books reading list.

As a writer I can’t say I have stumbled upon a better book about writing. I plan on reading this every year until I have the book memorized.

Currently I am on the section that talks about business writing and I thought that it might be very beneficial for my blog readers to hear a little about it.

The very first thing William says is that humanity and clear thinking are the biggest parts of writing well.

If our work requires us to write to someone we often tend to write in a way that is too formal, too stuffy, too full of jargon, and just too plain cold. While we are often required to write in a certain format there is certainly no rule that tells us we need to write like robots. No rule that tells us that we have to write without using our brains. Yet that is what we tend to do.

To use an example from the book, we tend to write about things such as “prioritized evaluative procedures” and “modified departmentalized schedules”, and then actually expect people to understand what we are talking about.

The first bit of advice to help us write more humanly is to not be afraid to use the personal pronoun I. Unless the format strictly forbids it, we should let our memos and other written forms of transmitting information use the word I. They can start with I and end with I and can talk about all the you’s in between. They should tell the story of people within or outside the organization and the relationship they have with the information being presented.

Of course this also requires us to write clearly. William constantly states throughout the book that writing clearly is simply thinking clearly on paper. Your writing is like your thinking, and if your thinking is unorganized and messy, so will your writing be too.

So be conscious of your writing in every form. Really think about it before you hit the save and/or send button. Ask yourself… “Is this human?” “Does it talk about relationships?” “Will people actually understand what I mean?” “Will this effectively get my message across?”

A writer can have no expectation of being understood if they are not willing to make sure their writing is clearly thought out and is written as humanly as possible.