On Writing Well by William Zinsser | Book Summary

On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Date Read: 9/7/2021

You can purchase On Writing Well from Amazon here.


On Writing Well is a book to help improve non-fiction writing. It preaches simpleness in writing, and calls clutter “the disease of American writing.” Often, we use too many words and phrases that add nothing to our writing.

The book believes all writing can be improved upon, even business, legal and scientific works. A lot of these pompous writings are stripped of their humanity, which leaves them boring and dull. The human element is why people read.

Zinsser gives dozens of good and bad examples to show his principles in action. The examples unleash the power of Zinsser’s teaching and are the strongest part of the book.

This is the best practical guide I’ve read about writing. I loved the books On Writing by Stephen King and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. But, now I see, I liked them because the authors were interesting. They inspired me to write but they didn’t give me clear advice for writing well. On Writing Well has given me methodical ways of thinking about and improving my writing.

Do I recommend this book?

If you trying to improve your writing, yes. If not, then no. 

Favorite Ideas from the Book:

  • You don’t have to wait for inspiration to write. If writing is your job, “you learn to do it like any other job.”
  • Try to rearrange a phrase that has been around for a few centuries. You will quickly see the poetry of famous phrases.
  • “Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important.”
  • “But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries that same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what.”
  • “If the reader is lost, it is generally because the writer has not been careful enough to keep him on the path.”
  • “But take special care with the last sentence of each paragraph – it is the crucial springboard to the next paragraph.”
  • “Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with “but.” If that’s what you learned, unlearn it – there is no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast to what has gone before.”

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