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July 23, 2012 | by  | in Arts Books | [ssba]

Books About Writing

You know the feeling. It’s two o’clock in the morning. You’ve got an exam in two weeks. An essay due in tomorrow. You don’t remember the last time you picked up a textbook. You don’t remember the last time you bought a textbook. Things are grim. You begin to wonder whether you made the right choice in coming to university.

Fortunately, as with many things in life, books can help.

There is a plethora of literature designed to make your time at university as easy as possible. While it’s tempting to stop reading anything outside your required texts, it’s also important to weigh up your time realistically. It’s worth spending a few hours reading if you can save yourself days of stress down the line.

Mastering the art—or craft—of writing is one of the most vital tasks a university student grapples with. While the ability to write well is patently more important in some majors more than others, it is never a bad thing to be able to express yourself clearly and intelligently in writing.

This is a huge cause of stress for a lot of students. It’s also one that is not difficult to remedy. Funnily enough, some authors know a thing or two about writing, and have been kind enough to put their wisdom down onto paper; creating guides to writing that are incredibly well-regarded and should be read by everybody, regardless of age or career.

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is a fantastic resource for writers of any kind; and short. Short enough to fit in your pocket. Short enough to read in a couple of hours before bed. It’s the sort of book you can and should read again and again, reinforcing those rules of the English language that you already know but perhaps don’t know the word for, or the rules that you’ve never heard of but have been breaking for years. It’s pretty cheap too, around $10.00 on Fishpond.

It almost feels redundant to point this out, but The Elements of Style is not only informative, it’s also well-written, sometimes funny, and engaging to the extent that it’s been in print for nearly 100 years. Each point is illustrated vividly enough that it sticks in your mind. The examples it provides of the wrong methods of writing are also clear and simple enough to ensure there is no confusion for readers in this area.

It’s not a perfect guide. As mentioned before, it’s been in print for a long time, and some of its advice is rather antiquated. For example, it recommends using “these data” or “those data” instead of simply “the data” or “that data”—while grammatically correct, this is a practice that will make you sound either slightly thick or very pretentious if used today.

William Zinsser’s On Writing Well complements The Elements of Style. It’s a vital tool for writing nonfiction, intended to be relevant to just about everyone. No matter what your degree or writing level is, there will be something for you in On Writing Well. Zinsser is fair and even- handed; his guide caters equally as well to those who find the idea that writing is something that can be enjoyable inconceivable as it does to those who write every day of their lives.

It’s not as short as The Elements of Style, but it’s no less valuable. Zinsser is a master of the written word—a given when one has written a book called On Writing Well—and his book is succinctly and intelligently written, entertaining as well as educative. Zinsser uses anecdotes, comparisons, and vivid images—“clutter is the disease of American writing”—to illustrate the common faults and errors that writers make, and recommendations on how to fix them—“strip every sentence to its cleanest components”.

It’s the start of a new trimester. You likely have more time now than you will over the next three months to pick up a writing guide and work on making yourself more legible to your lecturers. It’s literally about a day’s work, but the skills you will pick up will help you throughout the rest of your life.


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