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Good writing

Good article, Joel.

Being a writer, I know that good writing takes work. I remember reading a good quote somewhere that said it was about hiding how much effort went into making it effortless :)

The best book I've ever read on good writing is William Zinsser's "On writing well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction" (Obligatory Amazon link: http://makeashorterlink.com/?B5E115C1 )

Zinsser writes that if you're not the kind of person to use words like "indeed" and "moreover" in your speech, you shouldn't use it in your writing either. This book is an enjoyable read and you'll probably finish it in about 3-4 hours. I find it more useful than Strunk and White's "Elements of Style". In my last company, I made it mandatory reading for all people in the Content department. (I also tried to get some software engineers to do the same, but too many of them said they had "unrealistic project deadlines".)

Why some people think that good writing requires the use of complex words or 19th century literary style is beyond me. In our over-communicated society, the simpler it is, the more chance that people will understand it. The meaning of "communication" is that your message gets through to the other person. I'm puzzled when I see reader reviews on Amazon about how a book's language "is for high school students". To me, that just means more people can understand it.

Madhu Menon
Tuesday, October 30, 2001

I have the Zinsser book and indeed it is useful.  Moreover, I find it quite a good companion volume for S&W, rather than a substitute or replacement.  Both have their uses, and anyone who has to write documentation, help, press releases, application notes, or anything similar should have both.

I fully agree about the implied sad state of both technical and business writing.  Most of it is impenetrable.  Churchill said something about "never use a big word when a small one will do," and I take that as the first commandment of writing.

Incidentally, Churchill's speeches were easily understood by high schoolers--and less than high schoolers.  There's hardly a better model in the English language.

Chris Dunford
Tuesday, October 30, 2001

If you're a fan of straightforward writing, you might also enjoy George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language." There are a bunch of copies on the web; one is at http://www.resort.com/~prime8/Orwell/patee.html .

Mike Gunderloy
Tuesday, October 30, 2001

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