On Writing well by William Zinsser. Methods.

The first part of the book -with maybe some little things that I would change- is overall amazing and makes you reflect on how you write. But this chapter/part of this amazing book by William Zinsser is just a collection of -generally truisms- pieces of advice that in the best case could be in a checklist for writers. Or even better in a YOAST-like suggestions panel if you are writing a post. 😀 Some of them are good, but not the kind of stuff you expect finding in a masterwork. Or… could it be he wrote this in the seventies, and now all their thoughts are generally accepted, so that became truisms?

I’d save something, however, here. The idea of attracting attention and not letting the reader go elsewhere. It is even more critical now with the internet, as the audience attention is multiplexed/shared between various devices or even tabs in the same browser. If your bore your user for just 5 secs your post will become another step in the neverending browser history. Period.

Even if I do think the best part of this book is the introduction, there are still some good lessons to be distilled from the second part, Methods.

Again it starts with an undeniable assertion (a truism):

You learn to write by writing

And then William Zinsser gives us some handy pieces of advice that could be used in the form of a checkbox to be passed to our writings/posts ;). Let’s do this.


Unity Aka… have you thought about what you wanted to say before starting?

  • Have you always used the same person in the text? I or We, not both
  • Have you chosen the tense for the text?
  • Is the mood and style uniform along the post?
  • Have you first decided what topic to discuss? Have you got to the point and finished the post once covered?

The Lead and the Ending. Aka…Always try to tell a story. Need help?

  • “The most important sentence in any article is the first one”. Have you double-checked it?
  • The last sentence of each paragraph is the crucial springboard to the next paragraph“. Have you double checked them?
  • Don’t count on the reader’s perseverance. Is it clear what’s in for them since the beginning?

Bits and Pieces. Aka… prune the unnecessary noise.

  • Use passive just if it is unavoidable?
  • Get rid of any unnecessary adverb. (effortlessly easy, slightly spartan…).
  • Get rid of any unnecessary adverb. (yellow daffodils or brownish dirt). “The adjective that exists solely as decoration is a self-indulgence for the writer and a burden for the reader“.
  • Get rid of any unnecessary little qualifier. (a bit, a little, sort of, kind of, rather, quite…) A bit confused is still confused and sort of tired means tired. Be confused, tired, annoyed…

Punctuation. Aka, keep it neat.

More pieces of advice from William Zinsser:

  • Period: do short phrases. Also, do short paragraphs.
  • Don’t overuse exclamation points. Don’t exaggerate. Also… is it really awesome or just you are acknowledging? Save your credibility and use words/structures in the correct graduation.
  • Learn to use Mood Changer Words: but, yet, however, still, instead, later, subsequently… saves you longer explanations and prepare readers for changes.
  • Contractors. Use them to sound warmer (Except for I’d that can be misinterpreted as it is polysemic)
  • That and Which. We’ve been told your speech could sound old fashioned if you use that when it can be avoided, but it tends to make the speech clearer.

And remember…

Scissors and paste -or their equivalent on a computer- are honorable writer’s tools.

And just scissors, are too. Getting rid of a phrase is often the best way to fix it.

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