On Writing Well Book Summary - On Writing Well Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

On Writing Well summary

William Zinsser

The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

4.4 (302 ratings)
25 mins
Table of Contents

    On Writing Well
    Summary of 8 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 8

    To write well, write simply.

    Are you desirous of becoming privy to privileged information that will facilitate adept, dexterous, and proficiently written composition on your part?

    Wait. Scratch that. Let’s try it again.

    Do you want to know the secret to good writing? Simplicity. 

    The key message in this blink is: To write well, write simply.

    Novice writers often try to impress. They reach for the most obscure words in their vocabulary. They jam clause upon clause into their sentences. Their nouns are weighed down with adjectives and their verbs are saddled with adverbs. The end result is usually more impenetrable than impressive. Worse, it makes it difficult for the reader to . . . well, read the writing.

    When it comes to writing, adding words, clauses, or complexity can actually detract from what you’re doing. To write well, strip down each component of your sentence into its cleanest parts. Cut out words that don’t perform a function. Make long words short. Strive for simplicity.

    Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a catch. Clear writing is only achievable through clear thinking, which is only achievable by decluttering the mind. It’s possible to hide a half-baked argument with verbiage, jargon, and waffling – just listen to any politician. But clear writing that is well-thought-out leaves the writer with nowhere to hide.

    To write simply and clearly, the writer must always come back to one central question: What am I trying to say? Answering this question might be harder than she thinks, especially if she’s still working through it. And when she’s finished writing, she must ask herself another question: Have I said what I meant to say?

    Next, she must ruthlessly clear the clutter from her pages so that nothing draws focus from her message. What constitutes clutter? Any word or phrase that isn’t required or doesn’t enhance the meaning of what is being written. Here are a few examples:

    Redundant prepositions. Why face up to a challenge when you can simply face a challenge?

    The same goes for adjectives. Why describe a personal acquaintance when, by definition, acquaintances are personal?

    Edit out long words and labored word clusters. Verbiage may be in vogue in corporate contexts, but there’s no need to say currently, at the present time, or even at this juncture when a simple now will suffice. A clear sentence is easy to read. But it takes skill, thought, and practice to write one.

    Want to see all full key ideas from On Writing Well?

    Key ideas in On Writing Well

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is On Writing Well about?

    On Writing Well (1976) by William Zinsser is an indispensable guide to the art and craft of nonfiction writing. Adapted from Zinsser’s writing course at Yale University, this handbook introduces the principles of good writing in a warm, accessible way. What’s more, it’s packed with tips, tricks, and tools for polishing prose to perfection.

    Who should read On Writing Well?

    • Beginner writers who feel intimidated by the blank page
    • Storytellers who want to tame their sentences and sharpen their skills
    • Professionals who know that writing well is non-negotiable

    About the Author

    William Zinsser, an acclaimed journalist and essayist, authored 19 books on topics ranging from baseball to jazz. In the 1970s, Zinsser was head of Yale University’s influential writing workshop. His craft books, including On Writing Well and Writing to Learn, are regarded as classics in the genre.

    Categories with On Writing Well

    Books like On Writing Well

    People ❤️ Blinkist
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    28 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial