Choosing a Writing Manual

To become a better writer, it helps to hear what great writers have to say. Choose one of the following books to be your textbook this semester; you'll write a series of reports on your choice late in the semester.

If you'd like to choose a book not on this list, or recommend a new addition to this list, just email me, explaining your choice and why you think I should approve it.

You'll need to make a choice and purchase your book by Friday, May 3, when the Textbooks Choice assignment is due.

Writing with Style, by John R. Trimble

cover of Writing with Style When I was your age, taking this same type of required writing class, this is the book I was assigned, and it helped the light bulb go on in my head about good writing and how to make it. It's a great combination of down-to-earth advice and more philosophical discussions of how to approach the act of writing, and it's short and well written.

How to Not Write Bad, by Ben Yagoda

cover of How Not to Write Bad This is my favorite quick read about basic writing skills. Yagoda takes an interesting approach—instead of going on an on about style, that elusive quality in fine writing that's so hard to define, he focuses on its opposite, keeping obvious errors and inconsistencies from plaguing one's writing. Great for those who feel like beginners in the writing realm.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynn Truss

cover of Eats, Shoots and Leaves Truss is one of those snooty people who get all worked up by the typos they see around them, and it finally got to her so bad she wrote a whole book about it. And though that sounds like an awful book, it's actually quite funny, and you'll learn a ton about punctuation in the process.

Thank You for Arguing, by Jay Heinrichs

cover of Thank You for Arguing We'll read a small selection from this book this semester, but the whole book is worth a read, especially if you're interested at all in rhetoric or argumentation. Heinrichs writes about these ancient concepts in a breezy, useful manner and fills the whole book with pop culture references to help you understand how they apply to modern life.

The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda

cover of The Sound on the Page The opposite of Yagoda's book above. Here he interviews 40 famous, successful writers in order to figure out what style is and how it is accomplished.

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker

cover of The Sense of Style Pinker is that odd and rare human who is accomplished on both sides of the humanities–sciences divide—he is a respected psychologist and Harvard professor who also happens to be a best-selling writer. His latest volume is a departure; instead of writing about the scientific concepts he's so often popularized, here he writes about writing. It's nice to get an outsider's view.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

cover of On Writing Well This is a classic book about writing nonfiction of all kinds—think interviews, travel articles, memoirs, science writing, sports reporting, and journalism. Zinsser takes you through the style of writing nonfiction in such a way that it doesn't read like a textbook.

Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language, Robert J. Gula

cover of On Writing Well If you're at all interested in the logic side of argument—if, for example, you hope to be a lawyer—this might be the book for you. Gula gives a thorough but highly readable crash course in logical fallacies and related topics.