After finishing William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book, I decided to invest in my writing by reading On Writing Well and They Say, I Say. Several themes connect both books. First, writing is hard. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. These days we are flooded with books “written” by athletes, cooks, and politicians. I say “written” because once you actually pick them up, you learn that someone else wrote these books for them. For example, The Devil in the Kitchen is authored by Marco Pierre White with James Steen who happens to be a professional journalist. I have nothing against Pierre White. Actually, I find many of his interviews interesting. But there is a difference between talking and writing. Both books also treat writing as a craft. Writing doesn’t just happens. You have to work on it, preferably every day. In doing so you become a better writer and a better thinker. The question then is how to write well?
On Writing Well is build around four principles. Clarity – be clear about what you want to say. If others cannot follow your arguments, that is your fault. Life is too short to read unclear books, so don’t leave your reader guessing. Brevity – be short and to the point. Short sentences are better than long ones, so keep it that way. Simplicity – use words that others can easily understand. There is no need to be esoteric – a case in point. Humanity – be yourself. Do not write anything that you would not comfortably say in public and stop worrying about what others might think about you. Writing is about expressing yourself, so do that the best you can and don’t worry about things you can’t control.
They Say/ I Say offers more practical advice about academic writing. The book stresses that when writing, we are entering into a conversation with others. The authors do an excellent job providing templates that help us organize our writing. This in turns makes our thinking clearer. While some might dislike templates, I found them very useful because they explicitly demonstrate how to engage with others. Non-native speakers of English will especially benefit from reading this book.
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