On Writing Well

Author profile picture

@manas_saloiManas J. Saloi

My notes from On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
by William Zinsser
, one of the best books ever written on writing

  1. Remove all unnecessary words. Focus on simplicity
  2. Don’t adopt a fake style. Be honest. Be authentic. Be credible
  3. Write for yourself. You are your biggest audience. Be original
  4. Read aloud before publishing
  5. Have a consistent tone and mood. If you are writing a blog post on travel, don’t talk like a travel brochure and a backpacker in the same post
  6. When you are writing non fiction, leave your readers with one unique thought they never had before
  7. Have good leads in the beginning which takes the user forward and hooks them to your article
  8. Take special care of the last sentence of each para, it is the springboard to the next
  9. The conclusion should be swift leaving the readers surprised or with something to think about. Best is to re use a quote from the article
  10. Use active verbs instead of passive. “Joe saw him well” and not “He was seen by Joe”
  11. Use precise verbs
  12. Don’t use adverbs. “Blared loudly” is pointless
  13. Sometimes adjectives are also pointless when the verb is strong, example: “Totally flabbergasted”
  14. Dash is used to justify or amplify in the second part of a sentence you stated in the first part. “We decided to get going — it was only 100 kms more”
  15. Colon is used for itemised list. “The ship stops at: Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi”
  16. ‘Yet’ and ‘But’ are strong mood changers
  17. Between ‘that and ‘which’ always use ‘that’ unless it makes your meaning ambiguous. If your sentence needs a common to achieve its precise meaning, it probably needs ‘which’. ‘Which’ mostly describes, or identify, or locate, or explain or otherwise quantify the phrase that preceded the comma. “Take the shoes that are in the rack” vs “The house, which had a roof”
  18. Don’t overstate things; You mostly didn’t consider jumping out of the window
  19. Often a difficult problem in a sentence can be solved by simply getting rid of it
  20. Keep paragraphs short
  21. Writing is visual — create imagery
  22. Whether it is people or places: write about details which are significant. Eliminate known attributes.
  23. As a travel writer find the central idea of the place you are dealing with
  24. Writing is just thinking on paper. Anyone who can think clearly can write clearly
  25. Scientific writing is just about leading readers who know nothing, step by step, to a grasp of subjects they thought they had no aptitude for. Start with a basic fact a reader has to know before he can learn anything more. With each subsequent sentence broaden what was stated before
  26. Business writing should be warm and personal, not pedantic and vague
  27. Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that the reader will recognise when they hear it on the page.
  28. Avoid using cliches
  29. Never hesitate to imitate another writer. It is part of the creative process for anyone learning an art or a craft. Find the best writers in the fields that interest you and read their work aloud.
  30. After verbs, plain nouns are a writer’s strongest tools; they resonate with emotion

If you enjoyed reading this you might want to check out Lessons from two of the most important books I have read till now

Stay up to date with my latest posts/tweets here: @manas_saloi



The Noonification banner

Subscribe to get your daily round-up of top tech stories!