Best book to learn how to write professionally and self-edit my own work
November 5, 2013 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Recent job opportunity came up, and I have the chance to write semi-professionally for a small company. Think in the vein of writing movie reviews or reviewing software. Its professional writing, but there will be conceptual and thematic details involved, it's not simply writing staid copy. I would like to find a book that helps me hone my prose, and will teach me how to better edit and improve my work.

Hopefully this book will include example paragraphs, and then show how the author identifies flaws, then shapes and hones these paragraphs into solid prose. I not only need to learn how to improve my writing, but improve my self-editing skills as well. I find "watching" an author improve passages to be an excellent way to learn.
My last writing experience was in university, a long, long time ago. Any and all advice and references to books I could look up would be of a great help.
Thank you for your suggestions.
posted by cascando to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Keep it concise.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:19 AM on November 5, 2013

On Writing Well by Wm. Zinsser is, I think, the classic in this area.
posted by gauche at 7:20 AM on November 5, 2013

Might look a bit dated now, but see if you can find a copy of The Reader Over Your Shoulder by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge. They pick apart many paragraphs and give what they call fair copies. Their emphasis tends to be on clearness and on not making a fool of yourself, but I found it very useful when I was trying to learn not to write like a judge.
posted by Logophiliac at 7:26 AM on November 5, 2013

Ten tips, and a book recommendation, from someone who knew what they were talking about:

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1.Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing ["Writing that Works"]. Read it three times.

2.Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3.Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4.Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5.Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6.Check your quotations.

7.Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.

8.If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9.Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10.If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.


posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:22 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would recommend The Elements of Style by Strunk & White.

It doesn't have entire paragraphs, but it has examples of before and after revisions have been made. These examples will be anything from a phrase up to two or three sentences.

The book (I have 3rd Edition) is less than one hundred pages so it is very usable as a reference guide.
posted by 99percentfake at 10:38 AM on November 5, 2013

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