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Writing to Learn: How to Write--And Think--Clearly about Any Subject at All

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This is an essential book for everyone who wants to write clearly about any subject and use writing as a means of learning.


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This is an essential book for everyone who wants to write clearly about any subject and use writing as a means of learning.

30 review for Writing to Learn: How to Write--And Think--Clearly about Any Subject at All

  1. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    Humor is the most perilous of writing forms, full of risk; to make a vocation of brightening the reader’s day is an act of continuing gallantry. Specialization inspires in me a certain existential dread. This is of two sorts. The first is the despairing thought that, by specializing, I will come to know only a certain, restricted corner of the vast universe. The second, more puerile fear is that, by becoming a specialist, I will commit myself on a path I won’t like very much. Generalization Humor is the most perilous of writing forms, full of risk; to make a vocation of brightening the reader’s day is an act of continuing gallantry. Specialization inspires in me a certain existential dread. This is of two sorts. The first is the despairing thought that, by specializing, I will come to know only a certain, restricted corner of the vast universe. The second, more puerile fear is that, by becoming a specialist, I will commit myself on a path I won’t like very much. Generalization is often, I suspect, motivated as much by fear of commitment as by humanistic curiosity. In Spanish there’s a word for a man who likes to sleep around—a picaflor—which conjures up the suggestive image of a bee going from flower to flower. Well, picaflores and Don Juans and Lotharios are generalists. Devoted husbands are specialists. Promiscuity aside, we continue to do homage to generalists with our notion of the “Renaissance Man,” and the quintessential Renaissance Man was of course Leonardo da Vinci. His notebooks are filled not only with “art,” but studies of anatomy, light, physics, engineering, music, and so much else. Last year I read a selection of Leonardo's notebooks, hoping to find out how one man could tackle so many disparate subjects. My conclusion was that his versatility was due to the application of his medium: drawing. By making careful, detailed sketches of things—bees, bodies, bridges—he came to understand them. His pencil thus acted as antennae, with which he probed and investigated his world. I thought: Could I do something similar? Certainly I have little talent as regards visual art. But I do have a verbal addiction. Perhaps I could use writing in a way similar to how Leonardo used sketching? Such an idea was hardly original. Soon I found out that Zinsser, the writing guru, already had a book about it. The idea of reading another Zinsser book was not especially appealing. I had already read his popular book On Writing Well, and came away with a sour taste in my mouth. But if I was going to be the next Leonardo, I had to swallow some pickles. Dutifully I bought this book; and, after equally dutiful procrastination, I am here to tell you about it. My first reaction was, again, distaste. This is not entirely rational. Every good writer has what I call a “literary personality”—related to, but not identical with, their real personality—and I simply do not like Zinsser’s. I do not wish to spend time with him or to invite him to supper. I cannot really articulate why I dislike him, in the same way I can’t say exactly why I don’t like the sound of people eating apples. He’s a strong writer and I agree with much of what he says. He is thoughtful, curious, broadly educated, sensitive to art, music, and literature, and generally benign in his means and ends. When I think about it, I really ought to like him quite a bit. Yet I don’t. Maybe this is because I object to the way he romanticizes his craft. Zinsser would have you believe that clear writing is one of the most difficult, dangerous, and distasteful activities in the world. It is so hard and so strenuous that it requires continual, backbreaking effort. Good writers are saints, many of them martyrs, including Zinsser himself: “I don’t like to write, but I take great pleasure in having written.” Zinsser makes very clear that his vocation is a heroic one, especially considering that he not only writes himself, but teaches it too: Why, then, would anyone in his right mind want to be a writing teacher? The answer is that writing teachers aren’t altogether in their right mind. They are in one of the caring professions, no more sane in the allotment of their time and energy than the social worker or the day care worker or the nurse. It takes serious audacity (to use a polite word) for a writing teacher to compare himself to a nurse. I also gag at this self-pity about the how hard it is to write well. Yes, it can be hard. Lots of things are hard. The only thing that sets writers apart is that they tend to whine the most eloquently. Even when I put my personal dislike aside, however, I still must conclude that this book is disappointing. It begins with an unnecessary autobiographical section on Zinsser’s childhood education. (Considering how much Zinsser likes to talk about omitting unnecessary material, I found this especially ironic.) The rest of the book consists of long excerpts of what Zinsser considers to be successful examples of writing in different subjects, from anthropology to chemistry, from geology to mathematics. The book could easily have been an anthology, and probably should have been. Most of what I wanted from this book is lacking. Yes, any subject can be written about engagingly—Zinsser didn’t need to prove this to me—but how do you go about doing that? Zinsser avoids the problem of methodology by insisting that good writing is learned by imitation. This is no doubt largely true; still I found it to be an abdication of this book’s promise: to give the would-be autodidact a strategy, or at least a few tips, for writing to learn. Another serious omission is that Zinsser does not provide any concrete advice for teachers looking to apply this philosophy to their classes. There are a few reported examples of teachers who have done so, and a lot of hortatory passages about the benefits of “writing across the curriculum,” but very little in the way of concrete strategies for implementing this idea. As both a student and a teacher, I found this irksome. Still, I suppose this book does have its value as a piece of propaganda. Zinsser is enthusiastic about writing, and his enthusiasm is contagious. For anyone skeptical that any subject—even chemistry, physics, or math—can be written well, or if you’re unsure whether writing can help you think and learn, you’ll find these doubts addressed here. For all its faults, this book does provide a glimpse of a compelling educational ideal: one that allows all of us to be picaflores in good conscience.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    If you’ve read On Writing Well, you should read this book too. If you haven’t, you should read them both. Writing to Learn does a great job of summarizing the idea of “Writing Across the Curriculum.” It gives examples, justifications, and inspiration. I would sum up the book like this: 1. Writing helps us think. 2. Clear writing is clear thinking. 3. You can (and should to truly learn) about any subject. 4. Everyone (not just “writers”) writes. 5. We learn by imitation. 6. Every subject is acces If you’ve read On Writing Well, you should read this book too. If you haven’t, you should read them both. Writing to Learn does a great job of summarizing the idea of “Writing Across the Curriculum.” It gives examples, justifications, and inspiration. I would sum up the book like this: 1. Writing helps us think. 2. Clear writing is clear thinking. 3. You can (and should to truly learn) about any subject. 4. Everyone (not just “writers”) writes. 5. We learn by imitation. 6. Every subject is accessible through clear writing. 7. Every field, subject, domain... has a literature. 8. There are two kinds of writing: explanatory and exploratory. 9. We can learn from anywhere, anyone. 10. We should look at the best examples in any field to learn. Zinsser gives examples from the worlds of science, math, art, music, physics, chemistry, psychology. As a teacher, this book inspires me to find good examples from the worlds of technology, comedy, video games, cooking, sports, movies, and other fields that my students are really into. Quote: “Therefore, for the purposes of this book, I’ll generalize outrageously that there are two kinds of writing. One is explanatory writing: writing that transmits existing information or ideas. The other is exploratory writing: writing that enables us to discover what we want to say. Call it Type B. They are equally valid and useful.” (Loc 832 via Kindle) Often exploratory writing is neglected in schools because it seems to “not have a point” or “not be graded” in the same way as final writing assignments might be. The irony, of course, is that the final writing assignment won’t be any good if the writer hasn’t explored the topic beforehand. This book helps explain how to to do that. Other quotes too good not to share: “...writing is a form of thinking, whatever the subject.” (Loc 36) “But every discipline has a literature - a body of good writing that students and teachers can use as a model; writing is learned mainly by imitation.” (Loc 36) “Clear writing is the logical arrangement of thought; a scientist who thinks clearly can write as well as the best writer.” (Loc 46) “I thought of how often the act of writing even the simplest document - a letter, for instance - had clarified my half-formed ideas. Writing and thinking and learning were the same process.” (Loc 55) “Learning, he seemed to be saying, takes a multitude of forms; expect to find them in places where you least expect them to be.” (Loc 180) “Contrary to general belief, writing isn’t something that only “writers” do; writing is a basic skill for getting through life.” (Loc 188) “Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly - about any subject at all.” (Loc 188) “Students should be learning a strong and unpretentious prose that will carry their thoughts about the world they live in.” (Loc 228) “...there’s no subject that can’t be made accessible in good English with careful writing and editing.” (Loc 429) “...a piece of writing is a piece of thinking.” (Loc 761) “If clear writing is one of the foundations of a democratic society, don’t count on getting it from men and women with a college degree.” (Loc 1033) “Writers and learners will write better and learn more if they understand the “why” of what they are studying.” (Loc 1267) “Nonfiction writing should always have a point: It should leave the reader with a set of facts, or an idea, or a point of view, that he didn’t have before he started reading.” (Loc 1959) “Writer’s who think they are being criticized when only their writing is being criticized are beyond a teacher’s reach.” (Loc 3035) “If writing is learned by imitation, I want every learner to imitate the best.” (Loc 3156) “Moral: think flexibly about the field you’re writing about. Its frontiers may no longer be where they were the last time you looked.” (Loc 3243)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anne White

    For anyone interested in the definition and use of "living books" in education, this is full of good examples and ponderings. It might be useful to accompany the topical chapters (such as "how to read social science") in Adler's How to Read a Book. For anyone interested in the definition and use of "living books" in education, this is full of good examples and ponderings. It might be useful to accompany the topical chapters (such as "how to read social science") in Adler's How to Read a Book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Neil R. Coulter

    I’ve read On Writing Well several times (and am having my writing students read it this semester), but I hadn’t read anything else by William Zinsser. I picked up Writing to Learn, planning to read a chapter or two a day—but I just couldn’t put it down. I find Zinsser to be one of the most addictive writers, so easy to read. Even when I don’t quite agree with him, he’s a lot of fun. Some of this book overlaps with On Writing Well (and they complement each other perfectly), but Zinsser’s main poin I’ve read On Writing Well several times (and am having my writing students read it this semester), but I hadn’t read anything else by William Zinsser. I picked up Writing to Learn, planning to read a chapter or two a day—but I just couldn’t put it down. I find Zinsser to be one of the most addictive writers, so easy to read. Even when I don’t quite agree with him, he’s a lot of fun. Some of this book overlaps with On Writing Well (and they complement each other perfectly), but Zinsser’s main point here is to affirm the value of “writing across the curriculum,” arguing that even the subjects you might not think would benefit from writing (math and chemistry, for example) are still greatly enhanced by interacting through writing. He draws examples from two extremes: on the one hand, students just learning the subjects, and on the other hand, some of the most refined writers and renowned thinkers in history. For me, this was enjoyable to read, though perhaps not proving his point very effectively. I agree that it’s wonderful to read examples of some of the most engaging nonfiction prose; but that doesn’t mean that I’m likely to become a Charles Darwin or a John Muir. Clear writing was part of their intellectual persona and development, sure, but there were so many other factors involved, too. My other criticism of Zinsser, here as in On Writing Well, is that even across a wide range of disciplines and topics, he still prefers a very particular kind of writing. He likes a conversational, informal, friendly tone that draws the reader in. That’s fine, and of course I love that style of voice too, but I don’t know if it’s appropriate for every context, or that every piece of writing would benefit from that style. My area is academic writing (which Zinsser doesn’t touch at all, really), and the witty, engaging style that Zinsser likes just won’t fly in everyone’s PhD dissertation, or in all ethnographies. I wish Zinsser could have give some perspective on this side of writing, too. When is it okay not to be so clever and informal in your prose? However, these are relatively minor criticisms of a book and author that I generally love, understanding what to expect from him. It’s never bad to read a panorama of really good nonfiction prose. The example that I remember most from Writing to Learn is Lewis Thomas’s New York Public Library lecture (pp. 168–173; later published as “A Long Line of Cells” (1986)), in which Zinnser had asked Thomas to talk about memoir and autobiography, and Thomas proceeded to give a history of himself from the beginning of human evolution through the development of his own first cell in the womb. In addition to all the examples Zinsser presents, he also has a number of very memorable passages of his own about the craft of writing. Here are some that I shared with my students:I never stopped to ask, “Who is the typical Yale alumnus? Who am I editing for?” One of my principles is that there is no typical anybody; every reader is different. I edit for myself and I write for myself. I assume that if I consider something interesting or funny, a certain number of other people will too. . . . Meanwhile I draw on two sources of energy that I commend to anyone trying to survive in this vulnerable craft: confidence and ego. If you don’t have confidence in what you’re doing you might as well not do it. (25)Whenever I embark on a story so overloaded with good material I despair of ever getting to the end—of covering the ground I know I’ll need to cover to tell the story right. In my gloom it helps me to remember two things. One is that writing is linear and sequential. If sentence B logically follows sentence A, and if sentence C logically follows sentence B, I’ll eventually get to sentence Z. I also try to remember that the reader should be given only as much information as he needs and not one word more. Anything else is a self-indulgence. (33–34)Achieving a decent piece of writing is such a difficult task that it often strikes the reader as having been just that: a task. It accomplishes its purpose, and perhaps we shouldn’t ask for anything more. But we do. We wish the writer had had a better time—or at least had given us that impression. . . . Writing is a craft, and a writer is someone who goes to work every day with his tools, like the carpenter or the television repairman, no matter how he feels, and if one of the things he wants to produce by 6 p.m. is a sense of enjoyment in his writing, he must generate it by an act of will. Nobody else is going to do it for him. (73, 75)Little bits of wisdom like this, based on Zinsser’s many years of experience as a writer, editor, and teacher (and spending time with other people who have all kinds of interesting experience), are helpful bursts of motivation for any writer. He also writes some very funny lines, of course, and here’s my favorite—remembering his struggles in an elementary school math class with his teacher, Mr. Spicer:Such self-pity would have been despised by Mr. Spicer; emotions have no place in mathematics. He was one of those people who have “a head for figures,” instantly certain that twelve times nine is—well, whatever it is. Confronted with a student who was unable to produce the right answer, he would begin to turn red, a man betrayed by his vascular system, until his round face and bald head were crimson with disbelief that such dim-wittedness was at large in the next generation. (150)On Writing Well remains the number-one Zinsser for every writer to read; but Writing to Learn is also excellent to read at some point afterward, when you need a quick shot of encouragement to keep writing. As with On Writing Well, this is a book that pushes me toward other good books, and that's a wonderful thing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    I expected instruction on how to enjoy what we learned by writing reflectively about it. What I got was a warm and engaging memoir that also conveyed the former. This author provides a kindred spirit to those who are curious about more than their essential daily function, and he will encourage this, and he will encourage it in any reader in whom curiosity has become just a flicker. He makes every field he touches accessible, and he encourages us to share his zest for life.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    About six years ago I spent such a happy afternoon in the Melbourne library, reading Zinsser's On Writing Well (similar in style and content to Strunk and White's Elements of Style), I was happy to pick up another of his books when it came my way. The opening chapters were exciting: Zinsser wrote well about the pains and rewards of writing, and made an eloquent case that society (especially the educated, business class) has gone to the dogs by way of 'office-speak' and 'bureaucratese.' He even c About six years ago I spent such a happy afternoon in the Melbourne library, reading Zinsser's On Writing Well (similar in style and content to Strunk and White's Elements of Style), I was happy to pick up another of his books when it came my way. The opening chapters were exciting: Zinsser wrote well about the pains and rewards of writing, and made an eloquent case that society (especially the educated, business class) has gone to the dogs by way of 'office-speak' and 'bureaucratese.' He even convinced me that writing should be taught 'across the curriculum;' in other words, math students should write about math. Economics students should write about economics. Not only does our culture need good, clear writing about all subjects, but people learn best from their subject if they write about it. Writing, he pleaded, is organized thought. Of course, he was preaching to the choir. But, the book fell flat. The remaining chapters were devoted to samples of other people's writing, organized by category (the arts, sciences, etc.). Thing is, except for only an exception or two (you know Rachel Carson, the envronmentalist? The woman can write!), none of his examples wrote as well as Zinsser himself does. Toward the end, I found myself skipping the samples in favor of Zinsser's clever, albeit brief, commentaries. Here is one passage in which I took great heart: "Only when the job was over did I enjoy it. I don't like to write, but I take great pleasure in having written-- in having finally made an arrangement that has a certain inevitability, like the solution to a mathematical problem. Perhaps in no other line of work is delayed gratification so delayed."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Poiema

    In one of my recent reads, Writing to Learn, William Zinsser makes the challenge to write about something that is intangible rather than concrete. For example, a music lesson. It is one thing to write descriptively about a work of art or a photograph~~~the reader can LOOK at what is being discussed. But to describe a musical technique requires the ability to conjure up sensory information of a different sort. In the author's own words: "Writing about music also made me a better musician. The nee In one of my recent reads, Writing to Learn, William Zinsser makes the challenge to write about something that is intangible rather than concrete. For example, a music lesson. It is one thing to write descriptively about a work of art or a photograph~~~the reader can LOOK at what is being discussed. But to describe a musical technique requires the ability to conjure up sensory information of a different sort. In the author's own words: "Writing about music also made me a better musician. The need to write clearly about an art form that the reader can never see or hear; one that evaporates with the playing of each note, forced me to think harder about the structure of music--about what I was trying to learn." Zinsser's approach here is related, I think, to the concept of narration. Homeschoolers, especially of the Charlotte Mason variety, are well familiar with this technique of "telling back" what has been learned. In a homeschool setting, this most often involves telling back an episode in a book. But I'm finding that this deceivingly simple exercise is valuable in other settings, too. The music lesson is just one "non book" example. How about narrating the way in which a math problem is solved? Or describing how to do a flip on the trampoline? Have you ever tried to describe in detail an elegant meal that you enjoyed? Oral "tellings" are perfect for young children, but writing the narrations adds a new level of learning. Even adults find it challenging! I know this because I've tried tackling some of the writing assignments I've given to my children. Zinsser tells us that writing forces the brain to reason in a linear, sequential way and thus is ideally suited to help us tackle subjects that we might view as difficult. When we write, we must break it down into bite-sized morsels and that is far less intimidating than sorting through a huge mass of information. I have two very excellent writers in the family. But I have noticed that when I choose the "Achilles Heel" subject as a writing assignment, the result is less-than-excellent. So I am taking Zinsser's advice which includes: *Providing excellent models of good writing across the curriculum *Taking the time to write across-the-board, even where symbols are commonly preferred (math, music, physics, etc.) J. Henri Fabre, the famous French writer and entomologist, honed his incredible writing ability over a period of 20+ years by writing textbooks. His care in writing enabled him to later pen books that have been described as the "Insects' Homer". His words sing, even after being translated into different languages. The lesson I learn from Fabre is that writing is a lifetime pursuit! I'm excited that my own learning continues to unfold as I oversee the education of my children. Life is rich!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lora

    I read this and _On Writing Well_ back when the books were only a few years old and I was teaching my first ever classes -- freshman composition. Zinsser is such an easy (apparently) writer and thinker that I don't know why I haven't come back to these again and again. Easily remedied. I read this and _On Writing Well_ back when the books were only a few years old and I was teaching my first ever classes -- freshman composition. Zinsser is such an easy (apparently) writer and thinker that I don't know why I haven't come back to these again and again. Easily remedied.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tom McCleary

    Beyond being instructional on what makes for good writing, this book introduced me to some books that I have added to my ever-growing "want to read" list. Beyond being instructional on what makes for good writing, this book introduced me to some books that I have added to my ever-growing "want to read" list.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Soundarya Balasubramani

    As the title states, William dives deep into all subjects you can imagine and shows they can be written in a manner that appeals to everyone. I would read any book from William Zinsser simply because of his command over the language.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sabeena

    This book is a treat for 'generalists' that are curious about all subject matters and want to write about them, be it Mathematics, Sciences or Humanities! And you CAN successfully write about mathematics, chemistry and music in clear and plain English because Zissner will show you that you can. Chock full of examples exploring how the knowledgeable Greats of their subjects/fields have managed to do this with aplomb. This book is a handbook for people of any academic background who have ever felt This book is a treat for 'generalists' that are curious about all subject matters and want to write about them, be it Mathematics, Sciences or Humanities! And you CAN successfully write about mathematics, chemistry and music in clear and plain English because Zissner will show you that you can. Chock full of examples exploring how the knowledgeable Greats of their subjects/fields have managed to do this with aplomb. This book is a handbook for people of any academic background who have ever felt that writing seemed to have belonged to the Humanities but that harboured a love for prose and wanted to incorporate it into their learning without the worry of being treated as non-serious. Prose writing about mathematics has integrity! Read this to find out the how's and whys. The book is full of highly quotable ideas that are a useful learning tool for all of us who don't want to fall into any one particular subject category and want to write across the curriculum. And demonstrates that 'the same principles of good writing would apply to them all'. Some highlights Preface: 'it's not necessary to be a "writer" to write well. Clear writing is the logical arrangement of thought' 'writing and thinking and learning were the same process' P. 10 'I've become a clarity nut. I've also become a logic nut. I'm far less preoccupied than I once was with individual words and their picturesque roots and origins' P. 11 'writing is thinking on paper' P. 14 'writing is primarily an exercise in logic and that words are just tools designed to do a specific job' P. 21 'Generalists, as interested in astronomy and mathematics and evolution as they are in physics and the genetic code and the processes of life' P. 23 'we must say to students in every area of knowledge: "This is how other people have written about this subject. Read it, study it, think about it."'

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

    This book was an interesting read, especially if you deal with writers in a professional sense as an editor or as a writer. That said, it is not a how-to guide. What it does is get the reader thinking about how writing can complement and supplement a person's understanding of any subject. As a writer, I'm not sure this book did much for me. As an editor, I found it enlightening, interesting, and enjoyable. It's easy to suggest to someone that thoughts need to be put down in an orderly fashion an This book was an interesting read, especially if you deal with writers in a professional sense as an editor or as a writer. That said, it is not a how-to guide. What it does is get the reader thinking about how writing can complement and supplement a person's understanding of any subject. As a writer, I'm not sure this book did much for me. As an editor, I found it enlightening, interesting, and enjoyable. It's easy to suggest to someone that thoughts need to be put down in an orderly fashion and convey personality, humanity, and enthusiasm for the subject--and in an editing capacity, the editor can objectively help the writer gain her footing when the foundation shifts; as a writer, though, well . . . doing what Zinsser suggests is the difficult part. This book doesn't tell the reader how to do anything, but it does give examples of others who have done it brilliantly in case examples are needed.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Zinsser's book is both an anthology and a narrative about his experience with the concept of "writing across the curriculum." He recounts how good writing in other fields helped break down his misconception that certain subjects were, at best boring, or at worst, unlearnable. He posits that writing is the best way for students to engage with material--any material. Through carefully selected reading examples and personal examples, William Zinsser engages with the natural world, art, physics, mus Zinsser's book is both an anthology and a narrative about his experience with the concept of "writing across the curriculum." He recounts how good writing in other fields helped break down his misconception that certain subjects were, at best boring, or at worst, unlearnable. He posits that writing is the best way for students to engage with material--any material. Through carefully selected reading examples and personal examples, William Zinsser engages with the natural world, art, physics, music, chemistry, mathematics, anthropology, etc...the world of learning becomes limitless and accessible. Zinsser defines three "R"s for writing: No matter the subject, good writing will have Resonance, Relevancy and Responsibility (Accountability).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hurston

    Zinsser's premise is that you can learn a subject, any subject, by writing about it. Writing forces you to do research, organize your thoughts, process the subject matter, and put it in your words. He also proposes that any subject (nuclear physics, microbiology) is approachable if the writer takes the time to write clearly, succinctly, and well. I enjoyed the book and I got a long list of to-read books from the many quotations of examples of well-written works. Zinsser's premise is that you can learn a subject, any subject, by writing about it. Writing forces you to do research, organize your thoughts, process the subject matter, and put it in your words. He also proposes that any subject (nuclear physics, microbiology) is approachable if the writer takes the time to write clearly, succinctly, and well. I enjoyed the book and I got a long list of to-read books from the many quotations of examples of well-written works.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Katharine

    Excellent writing book! The first section was the best! I appreciated Zissner's tone, his practical help and the very idea that writing to learn is essential. I took a lot of notes, not just for me as a professional writer but also as a homeschooling mother & writing tutor. Not only were the examples well-written, they were educational too. I'm going to buy this book for my writing library. Excellent writing book! The first section was the best! I appreciated Zissner's tone, his practical help and the very idea that writing to learn is essential. I took a lot of notes, not just for me as a professional writer but also as a homeschooling mother & writing tutor. Not only were the examples well-written, they were educational too. I'm going to buy this book for my writing library.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Randal.ellsworth

    As fun as it is informative Few books on writing are fun and immersive like this one is. Part one is great for looking at learning through a new lens: writing. Part 2 is a wild ride through writing in various disciplines, from chemistry to anthropology, with entertaining and informative style.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I enjoyed the examples of writing from various fields, but I was more interested in the idea of figuring out what you know through the writing process.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    I could not put this down. It was not as much instructive as thought provoking and delightfully written. HIGHLY recommend to anyone involved in education in any capacity.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Derrick Smith

    One of the most important books I've ever read... One of the most important books I've ever read...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Adam Leon

    It took me exceptionally longer to get through this book than many others in the style of nonfiction talking about writing than I'd like to admit (roughly a whole week). The book is short, roughly 240 pages realistically (if you take out acknowledgements) and even shorter if you take out the hundreds of paragraphs he quotes from other works of literature across the scientific field (I would argue maybe only 180 pages). The problem with this book is that there is only a handful of real pieces of It took me exceptionally longer to get through this book than many others in the style of nonfiction talking about writing than I'd like to admit (roughly a whole week). The book is short, roughly 240 pages realistically (if you take out acknowledgements) and even shorter if you take out the hundreds of paragraphs he quotes from other works of literature across the scientific field (I would argue maybe only 180 pages). The problem with this book is that there is only a handful of real pieces of new information the writer gives, which are the following: -Keep it simple -Writing is rethinking -To write clearly requires you to think clearly -Teaching kids to write in their field helps them become better at their field -Remove any background noise (bad formatting, wonky paragraphs, ramblings etc) And that's really it. You could honestly sum the lessons of this book in a maybe 15 page essay and still not lose much. The reason for this is that this book is mostly a memoir of information. The writer describes his journey with meeting up with experts, reading through examples of scientific minds who wrote well, his personal feelings on things (he constantly reminds my generation that we watch too many movies and television and so have short attention spans and have lost the ability to write clearly despite showing no reference or evidence for these rather outlandish claims) and him pretty much "flexing" on how amazing his life is that he got to travel and meet with all these people. The people he met up with were not at all terribly interesting (except for one black professor who can speak more than 8 languages, linked negro spirituals all the way back to ancient hymns and led an interesting life) and those that were interesting, he only brought up as a somewhat brag with very little of it pertaining to the book (He brags that the black professor sang for him personally in a large cathedral they got all to themselves, yes, that's what he adds in a book about WRITING). All in all, this is a memoir surrounding the life of an uninteresting person trying to paint themselves as interesting by surrounding themselves with far more interesting people (of whom are mostly uninteresting as well). I learned very little from this book outside of those basic lessons any random person knows to spout.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    "...writing isn't something that only 'writers' do; writing is a basic skill for getting through life." Zinsser first published this work back in 1988, and even now 31 years later, those words still hold true, now probably more than ever in our internet age. We communicate every single day through writing, through social media, instant messaging, texts, blog posts, comments sections, and that's just counting the things we do in our downtime! At work we write memos, emails, reports, and who knows "...writing isn't something that only 'writers' do; writing is a basic skill for getting through life." Zinsser first published this work back in 1988, and even now 31 years later, those words still hold true, now probably more than ever in our internet age. We communicate every single day through writing, through social media, instant messaging, texts, blog posts, comments sections, and that's just counting the things we do in our downtime! At work we write memos, emails, reports, and who knows what else, and more often than not, the first and only chance you have to send your message to another is through the writen word. "Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly - about any subject at all." It's time to put aside the idea that writing only belongs to the English majors, and explore with William Zinsser the idea that the act of writing is a useful addition to both our teaching and our learning. We do not need to fear writing. The only thing writing actually *is* is a form of logic, and the words, sentences, and paragraphs (that our English teachers hammered over our heads as children) are the tools for using that logic. Zinsser spends Part 1 of his book presenting his case: detailing to us why writing simply and clearly helps not just the reader, but also the author, better understand their subject matter, be it art, mathematics, or science. The very essence of "writing to learn" is that the act of writing solidifies those murky thoughts swimming about our brain. Those fuzzy murky thoughts are crystalized when written down on paper. From there, we can figure out what we know, what we don't know, and what we want to know. From there, he details what he defines as "good writing", the writing intended for learning, and then he gives multiple examples of good, clear writing that is found across many disciplines. All in all, I found this to be a pretty darn good read. Anyone who wants to use writing to further their own personal education, or anyone who wants to write nonfiction, would do well to include this in their library.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tom Anstett

    Zinsser's effort in this book about writing veers into various disciplines with specific examples from primary sources representing quality evidence of clear writing appropriate for that specific discipline because each chapter fosters sufficient proof that writing across the curriculum is not only possible, but necessary to validate students' complete education, an education that substantiates full circle of thinking. There. I tried my best to violate Zinsser's basic fundamentals of clear writin Zinsser's effort in this book about writing veers into various disciplines with specific examples from primary sources representing quality evidence of clear writing appropriate for that specific discipline because each chapter fosters sufficient proof that writing across the curriculum is not only possible, but necessary to validate students' complete education, an education that substantiates full circle of thinking. There. I tried my best to violate Zinsser's basic fundamentals of clear writing, especially his tenet that short sentences fulfill a writer's purpose(s) much better than convoluted ones. Although some of the chapters lacked my radar focus since they were about subjects for which I have little interest, I still enjoyed the examples. Writings explaining or describing red ants, the mystery of life below the sea, Wagner's composition ability, Fred Astaire's alluring dancing, or Albert Einstein's readability are concise and well-placed. All in all, here is the author's underlying belief in one sentence: Every discipline should integrate some writing into the instruction. Zinsser even explains that teachers of art, music, science, math (loved that chapter..."the math autobiography"!! Wish I had done that piece in grade school or high school.), etc., need not spend time teaching students how to write (more for the English teachers). They have to energize their lessons with students' written responses to the instruction. The author provides research and examples, as mentioned. Two final notes: 1. The fundamentals are still needed. WZ spends a few pages outlining those fundamentals. For more specific info on those fundamentals, his book On Writing Well is the one for you. 2. If you are desiring explanations about writing fiction, this book details NONfiction writing.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Scott J Pearson

    While alive, Zinsser was our era’s guru on writing. Besides bestselling On Writing Well, he left us with a cadre of lesser-known works on how to communicate effectively. This work chronicles how to write educational pieces and is replete with examples from a variety of fields, ranging from music to geology and from physics to art. Zinsser’s authority is relatively unquestioned in the popular sphere. I do question whether his writing principles are indeed universal, especially when it comes to wor While alive, Zinsser was our era’s guru on writing. Besides bestselling On Writing Well, he left us with a cadre of lesser-known works on how to communicate effectively. This work chronicles how to write educational pieces and is replete with examples from a variety of fields, ranging from music to geology and from physics to art. Zinsser’s authority is relatively unquestioned in the popular sphere. I do question whether his writing principles are indeed universal, especially when it comes to worlds like poetry and religion in which ambiguity is sometimes part and parcel of the game. Nonetheless, for mainstream communication, it doesn’t get any better than Zinsser. This work functions as a cross between a general communications guide and an anthology of examples of general communications. Kudos are granted for exploring difficult academic subjects (like science, music, and art) that many claim to be exempt from rules of good writing. In the examples, he illustrates how effective writing can advance the technical nature of a field and still empathetically engage a reader. This work has its limitations. It is less of a how-to an more of an inspirational guide. There are ample resources available on how to write for specialized audiences (like science). This work is not one of them. Rather, it is the diligent and careful work of a generalist teaching others how to write for general audiences. He admits his personal shortcomings, especially when it comes to science, but demonstrates how joy can be found in reading about these subjects – even for those who didn’t “get it” in school. As such, this work is a fun read for generalists like myself who like dabbling in good works from other fields.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

    This book was not bad, exactly, just not what I was hoping for. Most of it is a repeat of On Writing Well. It was page after page of polished writing samples and analysis of why this sentence grabs you, or how this passage makes a technical subject accessible. It's more about learning to write than writing to learn. I'm disappointed because it falls short of what it claimed to be. Not to completely disparage this book, the first two chapters do explain the benefit of using writing in subjects tha This book was not bad, exactly, just not what I was hoping for. Most of it is a repeat of On Writing Well. It was page after page of polished writing samples and analysis of why this sentence grabs you, or how this passage makes a technical subject accessible. It's more about learning to write than writing to learn. I'm disappointed because it falls short of what it claimed to be. Not to completely disparage this book, the first two chapters do explain the benefit of using writing in subjects that are not typically writing-centric. The chapter on mathematics was also closer to what I was looking for, where a grade-school teacher uses writing to teach mathematics. The samples were rough, but they showed how students used writing to grasp mathematical concepts. This book overemphasized the necessity of entertainment value and accessibility of writing. When you are student, it's important to write clearly, sure, but writing to learn shouldn't mean you have to write fantastic, engaging content like Rachel Carson. It is more about testing your thoughts in clear terms. The polishing should be secondary.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laura Alonso

    Quite a disappointment to be honest - Zinsser's other book on my list (On Writing Well) is worlds apart from this one. Yes, writing is about putting your thoughts in order but I feel like this book lacks actual depth on what it claims on its title. Every single quoted passage is about how the author feels when he reads it, how interesting it is, but there's a lack of analysis of what is being quoted, what makes it work, or any criticism or feedback on what could have been done differently. Chapte Quite a disappointment to be honest - Zinsser's other book on my list (On Writing Well) is worlds apart from this one. Yes, writing is about putting your thoughts in order but I feel like this book lacks actual depth on what it claims on its title. Every single quoted passage is about how the author feels when he reads it, how interesting it is, but there's a lack of analysis of what is being quoted, what makes it work, or any criticism or feedback on what could have been done differently. Chapter 11, Writing Physics and Chemistry, is the only one I truly enjoyed. The passages are quite interesting but what's more important, Zinsser's actually provides feedback on key words and techniques that help the authors engage their readers. Up to 3 stars because of this saving chapter. I would like to know if anyone has measured the amount of content that's quoted vs actual words by the author, it felt like 80:20.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Zinsser will leave a great legacy of teaching thousands to write. I was introduced to “On writing well” in 2005 and try to read it once a year. Inevitably I pick up some new bit of wisdom to guide and speak to me while I work. This book is less instructional and more anecdotal. It is refreshing to read complex ideas explained well - with precision and logic across disciplines. Some inherently more interesting to me than others, but nonetheless the sage unfolding of instruction is captivating. I Zinsser will leave a great legacy of teaching thousands to write. I was introduced to “On writing well” in 2005 and try to read it once a year. Inevitably I pick up some new bit of wisdom to guide and speak to me while I work. This book is less instructional and more anecdotal. It is refreshing to read complex ideas explained well - with precision and logic across disciplines. Some inherently more interesting to me than others, but nonetheless the sage unfolding of instruction is captivating. I appreciate Zinsser’s endeavor and simple mission. I took copious notes and hope one day to write with enthusiasm, clarity, and order. Someone Zinsser would like to read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Randy

    Great concept -- using writing to solidify learning and being proactive about it!!! This idea is more powerfully expressed by Peter Elbow in his multiple books about writing (i.e. "Writing With Power"), also by Mark Levy, who was inspired by Elbow, in his excellent book "Accidental Genius". Zinsser does provide excellent writing examples from of specialists across many disciplines. This is useful but with a less precise aim to the book's announced purpose (at least what its title suggests). The b Great concept -- using writing to solidify learning and being proactive about it!!! This idea is more powerfully expressed by Peter Elbow in his multiple books about writing (i.e. "Writing With Power"), also by Mark Levy, who was inspired by Elbow, in his excellent book "Accidental Genius". Zinsser does provide excellent writing examples from of specialists across many disciplines. This is useful but with a less precise aim to the book's announced purpose (at least what its title suggests). The book has a memoir quality, which I found less interesting. Notwithstanding, the core message reminder was useful -- use writing to actively explore and remember things. The book is a quick read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marcus Kazmierczak

    A good book that shows the importance of writing as a means of learning, regardless of subject. The first half was a little more interesting, Zinsser discovers that you can learn by writing and how some schools are using writing as tool to improve thinking and learning in all subjects. The second half is good, but harder to engage with. It is a collection of good writing samples from various authors on various subject. Zinsser discusses the aspects that makes the writing interesting, so its read A good book that shows the importance of writing as a means of learning, regardless of subject. The first half was a little more interesting, Zinsser discovers that you can learn by writing and how some schools are using writing as tool to improve thinking and learning in all subjects. The second half is good, but harder to engage with. It is a collection of good writing samples from various authors on various subject. Zinsser discusses the aspects that makes the writing interesting, so its read and see the examples. If you are looking for a book to improve your writing, Zinsser's On Writing Well is the best, I highly recommend it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Octavio Ruiz

    Cultura general This book teaches with the example, along the chapters based on different non humanities disciplines the author show with great writers book’s samples how a good text looks like. He states clearly many times that a tidy mind writes tidily and vice versa, if you write your ideas and then work over the text you can also help your mind to think clearly. I don’t give 5 stars because I expected a to learn a technique, because the book’s title “how to”. Anyway it’s a great and fun book, Cultura general This book teaches with the example, along the chapters based on different non humanities disciplines the author show with great writers book’s samples how a good text looks like. He states clearly many times that a tidy mind writes tidily and vice versa, if you write your ideas and then work over the text you can also help your mind to think clearly. I don’t give 5 stars because I expected a to learn a technique, because the book’s title “how to”. Anyway it’s a great and fun book, I learned about general culture reading great samples in topics like the general relativity theory, naturalism, chemistry, music, etcetera.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suyog Ketkar

    Basically, it isn't a must-read but still full of invaluable stuff. The work is full of masterful reference-worthy material from disparate sources, which is precisely what the author had wanted. But I wanted to read more of Willian Zinsser in the book rather than those excerpts. He is a master when it comes to writing, and unlike his other works, this one lacked that tightness of content. It still is an excellent read, for the content is worth its attention; William has been successful in bringing Basically, it isn't a must-read but still full of invaluable stuff. The work is full of masterful reference-worthy material from disparate sources, which is precisely what the author had wanted. But I wanted to read more of Willian Zinsser in the book rather than those excerpts. He is a master when it comes to writing, and unlike his other works, this one lacked that tightness of content. It still is an excellent read, for the content is worth its attention; William has been successful in bringing to us gems from his collection.

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