Written by Manabu Bannai

On Writing Well: This book makes writing fun. I loved it.

About this book

On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write.

My thoughts

My writing has improved by reading this book. Simple is best that is what I've learned. I was using too much clutter in my writing such as "kind of" and "very." But I realized that it's meaningless. Also, my writing in Japanese improved as well.

The principle learned from the book can apply not only to writing but also speaking. When I speak English I try to use a not direct expressions. Because English is my second language so I don't have confidence. But the problem is I can't find the appropriate words causing my speaking to sound bad. This situation is terrible. I decided my mind to use a simple word.

Plus, below is great tips for English learners:

Always use “that” unless it makes your meaning ambiguous. Notice that in carefully edited magazines, such as The New Yorker, “that” is by far the predominant usage.

This helped me a lot. The below is important as well:

Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.

This is a great book for everyone who wants to enjoy writing.

» On Writing Well (William Zinsser)

My highlights

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose. Take the adjective “personal,” as in “a personal friend of mine,” “his personal feeling” or “her personal physician.” It’s typical of hundreds of words that can be eliminated.

people and businesses had stopped saying “now.” They were saying “currently” (“all our operators are currently assisting other customers”), or “at the present time,” or “presently” (which means “soon”). Yet the idea can always be expressed by “now” to mean the immediate moment (“Now I can see him”), or by “today” to mean the historical present (“Today prices are high”), or simply by the verb “to be” (“It is raining”). There’s no need to say, “At the present time we are experiencing precipitation.”

“Experiencing” is one of the worst clutterers. Even your dentist will ask if you are experiencing any pain. If he had his own kid in the chair he would say, “Does it hurt?”

Beware, then, of the long word that’s no better than the short word: “assistance” (help), “numerous” (many), “facilitate” (ease), “individual” (man or woman), “remainder” (rest), “initial” (first), “implement” (do), “sufficient” (enough), “attempt” (try), “referred to as” (called) and hundreds more. Beware of all the slippery new fad words:

Often my brackets surrounded the little qualifiers that weaken any sentence they inhabit (“a bit,” “sort of”), or phrases like “in a sense,” which don’t mean anything.

Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.

Don’t say that the president of the company stepped down. Did he resign? Did he retire? Did he get fired? Be precise. Use precise verbs.

Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.

The Exclamation Point. Don’t use it unless you must to achieve a certain effect.

Always use “that” unless it makes your meaning ambiguous. Notice that in carefully edited magazines, such as The New Yorker, “that” is by far the predominant usage.

I mention this because it is still widely believed—a residue from school and college—that “which” is more correct, more acceptable, more literary. It’s not. In most situations, “that” is what you would naturally say and therefore what you should write.

If your sentence needs a comma to achieve its precise meaning, it probably needs “which.” “Which” serves a particular identifying function, different from “that.” (A) “Take the shoes that are in the closet.” This means: take the shoes that are in the closet, not the ones under the bed. (B) “Take the shoes, which are in the closet.” Only one pair of shoes is under discussion; the “which” usage tells you where they are. Note that the comma is necessary in B, but not in A.

I don’t like plurals; they weaken writing because they are less specific than the singular, less easy to visualize. I’d like every writer to visualize one reader struggling to read what he or she has written.

There used to be a time when neighbors took care of one another, he remembered. [Put “he remembered” first to establish reflective tone.] It no longer seemed to happen that way, however. [The contrast supplied by “however” must come first. Start with “But.” Also establish America locale.] He wondered if it was because everyone in the modern world was so busy. [All these sentences are the same length and have the same soporific rhythm; turn this one into a question?] It occurred to him that people today have so many things to do that they don’t have time for old-fashioned friendship. [Sentence essentially repeats previous sentence; kill it or warm it up with specific detail.] Things didn’t work that way in America in previous eras. [Reader is still in the present; reverse the sentence to tell him he’s now in the past. “America” no longer needed if inserted earlier.] And he knew that the situation was very different in other countries, as he recalled from the years when he lived in villages in Spain and Italy. [Reader is still in America. Use a negative transition word to get him to Europe. Sentence is also too flabby. Break it into two sentences?] It almost seemed to him that as people got richer and built their houses farther apart they isolated themselves from the essentials of life. [Irony deferred too long. Plant irony early. Sharpen the paradox about richness.] And there was another thought that troubled him. [This is the real point of the paragraph; signal the reader that it’s important. Avoid weak “there was” construction.] His friends had deserted him when he needed them most during his recent illness. [Reshape to end with “most”; the last word is the one that stays in the reader’s ear and gives the sentence its punch. Hold sickness for next sentence; it’s a separate thought.] It was almost as if they found him guilty of doing something shameful. [Introduce sickness here as the reason for the shame. Omit “guilty”; it’s implicit.] He recalled reading somewhere about societies in primitive parts of the world in which sick people were shunned, though he had never heard of any such ritual in America. [Sentence starts slowly and stays sluggish and dull. Break it into shorter units. Snap off the ironic point.]

He remembered that neighbors used to take care of one another. But that no longer seemed to happen in America. Was it because everyone was so busy? Were people really so preoccupied with their television sets and their cars and their fitness programs that they had no time for friendship? In previous eras that was never true. Nor was it how families lived in other parts of the world. Even in the poorest villages of Spain and Italy, he recalled, people would drop in with a loaf of bread. An ironic idea struck him: as people got richer they cut themselves off from the richness of life. But what really troubled him was an even more shocking fact. The time when his friends deserted him was the time when he needed them most. By getting sick he almost seemed to have done something shameful. He knew that other societies had a custom of “shunning” people who were very ill. But that ritual only existed in primitive cultures. Or did it? My

» On Writing Well (William Zinsser)