Monday, October 10, 2011

Zinsser - 5 Principles of Good Writing

I am a big fan of William Zinsser. His book, On Writing Well, is the quintessential (He would cringe if he knew that I used that big Latin word) book on writing. His address to Columbia Graduate School of Journalism students can be found in "Writing English as a Second Language," published in The American Scholar. I love his closing comments to them:

"As you start your journey here at Columbia this week, you may tell yourself that you’re doing 'communications,' or 'new media,' or 'digital media,' or some other fashionable new form. But ultimately you’re in the storytelling business. We all are. It’s the oldest of narrative forms, going back to the caveman and the crib, endlessly riveting. What happened? Then what happened? Please remember, in moments of despair, whatever journalistic assignment you’ve been given, all you have to do is tell a story, using the simple tools of the English language and never losing your own humanity.

Repeat after me:

Short is better than long.

Simple is good.

Long Latin nouns are the enemy.

Anglo-Saxon active verbs are your best friend.

One thought per sentence.

Good luck to you all."


Anonymous said...

Excellent quote/advice; I can't think of any better. . . Writers are in the storytelling business, pure-and-simple. Not the computer savvy game. Not the creative graphics look-at-how-I've-enhanced-my-word-processing-skills-with-visuals. . . Storytelling. Infotainment. The Bad News: The basics of writing can be taught; any writer can improve. But a teacher can't get out what "god," or genes, or karma didn't put in. Fact: The great ones are born. And get even better from there. . .

patrice said...

My brother Jack, who is an editor, always told me that in writing, clarity is paramount. He also believes in short sentences.