William Zinsser was a renowned American writer, editor, and teacher. His book On Writing Well has been a go-to guide for generations of non-fiction writers looking to improve their craft. In it, Zinsser offers concise, actionable advice on writing clearly and effectively.
Here are 15 of his best tips:
Write clearly and concisely
Zinsser advocates writing with simplicity and precision. In other words, do not write excessively or with flowery language - get straight to the point.
Instead: There's just something about tennis that I can't help but find intriguing, and it makes me really enjoy watching.
Try: I find tennis intriguing and enjoyable to watch.
Write what you know
The best writing comes from personal experience. Write about topics that you're passionate about and have first-hand knowledge of. No need to force yourself to write about things that you don't like.
Write for yourself
The best writing is honest and authentic. Write for yourself first and foremost, and don't worry about what others will think. People will like you for being yourself in the long run.
In your writing, be honest with yourself and your readers. Don't try to be something you're not, and don't sugarcoat the truth. Your readers can figure it out easily.
Revise and edit your work
A good piece of writing is never finished. Always revise and edit your work, paying attention to detail. Make sure your argument is clear. Here is what Zinsser says on it,
Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time. Or the third. Keep thinking and rewriting until you say what you want to say.
Use your first draft as a guide, and restructure confusing sentences. Delete clutter, and rephrase words or sentences that could be more succinct.
Attention to detail
While writing, pay close attention to details. Don't let anything slip by unnoticed. Don't multitask when you are writing.
Be sure to proofread your work. A lot of mistakes can be caught just by reading your work out loud.
Avoid using clichés. They can make your writing seem trite and hackneyed. For e.g., As red as a rose , As white as snow, As black as coal, As green as grass, etc.
Beware of using jargon.
Jargon can make your writing seem pretentious and can alienate your readers. Jargon risks confusing the audience through wordiness or the use of obscure terms. It can also defeat the intent of the writer to communicate clearly.
Instead: The patient was diagnosed with myocardial infarction and was treated with thrombolytic therapy.
Try: The patient was diagnosed with a heart attack and was treated with clot-busting medication.
Use active voice
Active voice is more direct and engaging than passive voice. Some benefits of using active voice include,
- Uses fewer words
- Faster-moving narrative
- Helps prevent grammatical mistakes
Instead: The lamp was knocked over by a gust of wind that came through the window.
Try: A gust of wind came through the window and knocked over the lamp.
Use simple words and sentences
Use simple words and sentences. Complex words and sentences can make your writing seem convoluted and difficult to follow.
Instead: The fact of the matter is that I have been perusing your work, and I have come to the conclusion that you are in dire need of assistance.
Try: I have read your work, and I think you need help.
Use concrete images
In your writing, use concrete images. Abstract images can be difficult for readers to visualize.
Be specific when you address a topic. Vague writing is often uninteresting and unengaging. Use strong verbs. Strong verbs create strong images and make your writing more interesting.
Vague: The dog was running.
Strong: The dog sprinted across the field.
Vary your sentence structure
Vary your sentence structure. Using the same sentence structure repeatedly can make your writing monotonous.
From Zinsser's book:
The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way.
The author writes about the theme of the book.
The author delves into the book's theme.
Make sure your verbs agree with your subjects
In your writing, make sure that your verbs agree with your subjects. Incorrect verb tenses can be confusing for readers.
The data has been collected, and now we need to analyze it.
The data have been collected, and now we need to analyze them.
Check your spelling and grammar
In your writing, always check your spelling and grammar. Errors can make your writing look unprofessional. Use tools like Grammarly or Elephas app to fix issues in writing.
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You can use the Elephas mac app to rewrite your writings based on some of the principles mentioned here with just a click.
Here is a video,