What I'm Reading

Clear Writing

Reading On Writing Well, the classic writing manual by William Zinsser, shows me how many rules I have broken. First, I have used all three persons interchangeably. Second, I have not written as concisely as I could.

That’s basically the solution to my writing problems: simplicity.

Although we must be certain to define our terms and ideas, in this self-described complement to The Elements of Style, Zinsser echoes Strunk and White’s admonition to “Omit needless words”:

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what — these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.”

Zinsser adds that writing grows increasingly passive and abstruse as it progresses up the academic ladder. In the modern effort to be politically correct and not offend others, writing has deteriorated into euphemisms.

Yet strong writing requires strong words. We do not want to offend, but there is a difference between offending and presenting your case well. We must state our position clearly and humbly. And if others are angered, it is not your fault.


“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

1 Peter 3:15


One thought on “Clear Writing

  1. I’ve forgotten about that book. I haven’t read it in a long but now will pull it off my dusty shelf after your blog reminder. It is a book that writers should reread periodically. I’m glad you’re learning from it. It really is a gem.

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