You don’t become a better writer by wishing and hoping; you need to read good writing and study what good writers do. The books below are a great way to start.
Being a student of writing means reading books about the craft of writing and taking notes; reading good magazines and books and studying techniques the writer uses; and reading books by great authors whose prose inspires you. Below is a list of such books that my colleague Nancy Shulins and I compiled, based on our years in journalism and business. These books contain great tips and insight on the techniques that distinguish good writing.
For business professionals everywhere
- On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
- Elements of Style, by Strunk and White
- Plain Style, by Richard Lauchman
- Business Writing: What Works and What Won’t, by Wilma Davidson
- The Articulate Executive, by Granville Toogood
- Send, An Essential Guide to Email, by David Shipley, NY Times editor, and Will Schwalbe
- Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, by Brian Fugere and Chelsea Hardaway, senior partners at Deloitte & Touche
For corporate communications and PR pros
- Writing Tools: Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark
- News Writing and Reporting, by Christopher Scanlan and Richard Craig. An in-depth text on developing and writing news and feature stories.
- The Word: An Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing (not to be confused with the AP Stylebook)
- Writing to Deadline and The Craft of Revision, both by Donald Murray
- The Art & Craft of Feature Writing, by William Blundell, former editor at the Wall Street Journal
- Writing Your Way: Creating a Process that Works for You, by Don Fry
- The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
- Literary Journalism: A Reader by Jean Chance and William McKeen, a collection of short pieces, including one of Nancy’s
- Reporting by Lillian Ross, the ageless writer at the New Yorker whose profiles are a testament to the power of relevant detail and the art of long-form journalism.
- Somebody Told Me, a collection of articles by Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize winner at the N.Y. Times who is known for his richly descriptive writing
- Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, the best antidote for a writer’s isolation, jealousy, and despair.
- Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, perhaps the single most impressive journalistic achievement of this or any other age.
- Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion, a master class in evoking a sense of time and place.
- Holidays in Hell, by P.J. O’Rourke, to remind you that writing can be fun
The list is not complete. Everyone has their favorites, so let us know the titles that you found valuable.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.