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On Writing Well Summary

Here’s the On Writing Well summary. Learn how to become a better writer by finding simplicity and removing clutter.


On Writing Well author William Zinsser explains how to write better nonfiction. He always talked about clear writing. But first, you must clear your head. That’s because clear thinking becomes clear writing.

He also talked about his love for rewriting. He knew that few sentences come out right the first time. There’s always a way to improve each sentence.

About the Author

William Zinsser was an American writer and editor. He graduated from Princeton University and taught writing at Yale.

His books on writing often focus on economy. Get rid of all the words that don’t serve any purpose. Many bestselling authors highly recommend On Writing Well to their readers. It’s a modern classic on how to improve writing.

You can find some of his works at The American Scholar.

Main takeaways: On Writing Well Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from his book:

  1. The essence of writing is rewriting.
  2. Read everything aloud before publishing.
  3. Remove the unnecessary.

The essence of writing is rewriting

There’s always a way to make your sentences and paragraphs stronger. Maybe you should choose other words. You might need to reverse the order of your sentences.

Rewriting is not just for correcting errors. It’s also for improving what you have written. And also remember your purpose for writing a particular piece. There’s always a better way to make your message stronger and more compelling.

After you have written an article, take a rest. Sleep. Walk. Or let a few days pass by. Then come back to your article.

Read it and rewrite. Make the sentences tighter and stronger. Ask yourself, is there a better and clearer way to say this? Is my message clear? Do I add length variations to my sentences to avoid being monotonous?

After rewriting, rewrite some more. Aim for perfection. Keep in mind that it’s your craft. Before you get it out in the world, it should be the best as it can be.

Read everything aloud before publishing

This is also one of the keys to improve your writing. Before publishing or submitting your article, read your work aloud.

While you’re reading it, you will notice a number of sentences that doesn’t sound right. You will also notice some words that don’t fit in with what you have written.

It’s also a way to know if your work sounds natural. Keep in mind that people still “hear” your words when they read. That’s why rhythm is also important in writing.

One good tip to make your writing sound natural is to use the first person. Use “I.” It feels natural. It feels like someone genuine is talking.

Remove the unnecessary

Every word should serve a purpose. Remove the unnecessary words, sentences, and even paragraphs.

Think of it like a machine. Each part is essential. You can’t take away anything from it or else it will stop working.

It’s a temptation to add clutter in our writing. With clutter, we might sound important. But that doesn’t matter much to our readers. If they leave and do something else, we lose.

Clutter makes our writing exhausting. But if each word serves a definite purpose, our writing becomes strong and clear. Each sentence becomes light to read. And the reader is compelled to read more.

To remove clutter, start with taking out the adverbs. Many adverbs are unnecessary. If your sentence can live without the adverb, remove it.

You can also remove some adjectives. If they only add fluff to your writing, take them away. Stick to using nouns and verbs. Readers are always interested in people and actions.

Aside from rewriting, reading everything aloud, and removing the clutter, you can also learn the following from On Writing Well:

  • How to write better science articles
  • How to use humor in your writing
  • Understand why it’s the writer’s fault that people don’t keep reading
  • What to focus on when writing
  • How to create a better lead that compels people to read more

My personal takeaways

I learned how to spot unnecessary words and sentences because of On Writing Well. Before, I was just writing and hitting ‘publish.’ Now I’m careful.

I also learned how to improve my writing just by reading the sentences used by William Zinsser. I’ve realized that if I really wanted to improve my writing, I should see examples of good writing.

That’s why while taking my notes, I also pay attention to how the author explained each lesson. I became aware of his wording, sentence transition, and overall style.

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