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December 12, 2012 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Looking for essays and books you have found most helpful in improving your writing - in particular, style, critical analysis, and conveying a strong message. I've read "Politics and the English Language" and The Elements of Style, and found them both really helpful. Thanks!
posted by mossicle to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb

Simple and Direct by the late Jacques Barzun
posted by John Cohen at 9:22 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first paragraph in this selection of Chesterton's Orthodoxy: http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Gilbert_K_Chesterton/Orthodoxy/The_Romance_of_Orthodoxy_p1.html
posted by michaelh at 9:24 PM on December 12, 2012


There is a book called Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams. It is, in my opinion, much better than Strunk & White. Where Strunk & White say "Be clear," Williams shows you how to be clear. There are lots of excellent examples, and I'm told that some editions of it have exercises, although mine does not.
posted by number9dream at 9:25 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams.

This is actually called Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, which is the same book I recommended, though Gregory Colomb was apparently added as a co-author for the 4th edition. I have the 3rd edition, which is only by Williams and doesn't have any exercises. I agree that it's an advance over Strunk & White. I do like Strunk & White, but Joseph Williams goes into nuances about the rhythm and structure of sentences that I've never seen anywhere before.
posted by John Cohen at 10:11 PM on December 12, 2012


critical analysis, and conveying a strong message

Aristotle's Rhetoric.

In a simplified English kind of way, a teacher used this basis to show us how to break down our intended argument or supporting case for a particular design direction and then synthesize it back into a carefully crafted argument.
posted by infini at 10:54 PM on December 12, 2012


2nding the Williams & Colomb stuff. Their colleague, George Gopen, expanded the same ideas into a really practical pair of texts: one for students and one for teachers.

Student text: Gopen's "Sense of Structure"

The book for writing teachers

He also has a number of essays online that are easy to access. Here's one:
The science of scientific writing (PDF)

I like the Williams and Colomb book, but from my memory Gopen took more time over the explanations, and provided more iterations of re-writes, etc.
posted by Prof Iterole at 12:14 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Stylish Academic Writing is brilliant if you are writing academic papers. And I would actually think it might be handy even if you aren't.

Some of her tips (and a self-test) are on her webpage, but the book has far more detail, and a lot of tricks and tips that she doesn't talk about on the website at all.
posted by lollusc at 12:44 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Complete Plain Words, commissioned by the British Civil Service, focusses on clarity, precision and accessibility.

Be careful paying too much attention to Strunk and White. Many people who know what they're talking about dislike it.
posted by caek at 3:16 AM on December 13, 2012


I also like Richard Lanham's Style: An Anti-Textbook and Revising Prose (most of the work of writing is in the revising anyway).
posted by stopgap at 6:45 AM on December 13, 2012


Nth for Williams with or without Colomb, and The Complete Plain Words. I also like The Reader Over Your Shoulder, by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge.
posted by Logophiliac at 7:18 AM on December 13, 2012


I have two books that are particularly dog-eared and highlighted: Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style, and On Writing Well.
posted by jbickers at 7:26 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding Zinsser's "On Writing Well" and suggesting Anne LaMott's "Bird by Bird."
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:34 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


number9dream: Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams

John Cohen: This is actually called Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace

Actually actually, different editions have different (sub)titles:[wp] The Basics of;Toward; Lessons in; Ten Lessons in. I believe the most recent edition is the 10th, and is a "Lessons in" edition.

I join the chorus recommending this book.
posted by stebulus at 7:57 AM on December 13, 2012


Writing Well, by Donald Hall.
posted by Iridic at 9:25 AM on December 13, 2012


Actually actually, different editions have different (sub)titles:[wp] The Basics of;Toward; Lessons in; Ten Lessons in. I believe the most recent edition is the 10th, and is a "Lessons in" edition.

I stand corrected, thanks. Also sorry to see from your Wikipedia link that Joseph Williams died in 2008, which I hadn't realized.
posted by John Cohen at 7:53 PM on December 14, 2012


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