Of all the books in my writing library, Joseph M. Williams’s Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, helped me to make the biggest leap in the quality of my writing. Williams focuses on how our choices of words, and our choices for arranging our words, affect readers. One key idea is that readers they expect to find certain kinds of information in specific places, and that if we revise our writing to better fit those expectations, our writing will be clearer and more coherent.
For example, readers expect sentences to begin with familiar information, and to end with information that is newer. Also, readers look to the ends of phrases and sentences for information that is more significant. So we can make our writing clearer by shifting familiar, less important information to the beginnings of our sentences, and shifting newer, more important information to the ends. By applying this one tip, I improved both my writing and my confidence that I can write well.
Style and Elbow and Belanoff’s Being a Writer are my two favorite books about writing. While Being a Writer focuses on the writing process, Style focuses on structure and content. The techniques I learned from each book gave me not only the skill to write, but also the confidence to write.
Williams has also written Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, a shorter version of Style that makes a handy reference book.