Books on writing: Our head writer’s recommendations
August 7, 2018 • 5 minute read
As we bid farewell to our summer interns, we’re publishing a series of posts they wrote based on interviews with Infinite Global staff.
How can we become better writers? Mostly by writing. But we can also read books about good writing. Andrew Longstreth, head writer at Infinite Global, is a self-proclaimed “nerd” when it comes to the genre. While not exactly ideal beach reading material, we asked him for his favorites, and why he loves them.
The Elements of Style
The Elements of Style is a timeless guidebook for aspiring writers. Written by William Strunk Jr., an English professor, The Elements of Style was originally published in 1918 and later revised by E. B. White. The book began with seven rules of usage and 11 principles of composition, but White added four more rules of usage when he revised it.
Email and the internet in general have complicated writing styles, but the advice and basic principles of writing have not changed. Before any piece of writing is posted or sent anywhere, it is imperative that all grammar and style have been checked; it can affect the content of the writing, the reputation of the writer and more.
Andrew’s comment: “The writer’s bible. To keep my writing from getting flabby, I read it at least once a year.”
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century is a more contemporary version of The Elements of Style. The author, Steven Pinker, Harvard linguist and psychologist, is speculated to have published the book in an attempt to replace The Elements of Style. In contrast to the 20th century book, The Sense of Style is full of comic strips, cartoons and examples of poor writing to keep the reader invested. Pinker, in comparison to Strunk Jr. and White, is less stringent about his rules and admits that there is room for interpretation in everything. Pinker also examines the trends of writing today and whether the internet plays a part in it.
The Sense of Style teaches writing techniques in a more flowery manner than The Elements of Style, yet it is similar; it simply comes down to a style preference. For PR professionals, Pinker’s understanding of the internet could be helpful, but the basics of good writing is present in both books.
Andrew’s comment: “The ‘curse of knowledge,’ which Pinker explains in this book, unfortunately still afflicts so much writing about the law today.”
The Art and Craft of Feature Writing
William E. Blundell, author of The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, was an editor at The Wall Street Journal, and he wrote this book for the paper’s acclaimed features writers to help blocked writers. His advice can be especially helpful for writing website content. The book, a non-fiction story meant to appease the difficulty of writing, has a lot of takeaways that are applicable to all writing, including legal content writing. Most great content requires planning, strategic quote placement, and fluid writing, just as Blundell suggests. It can be difficult to turn facts into something that people latch onto, but The Art and Craft of Feature Writing will help.
Andrew’s comment: “This book has great advice on what can be the most important element in a long-form piece of writing: organization.”
Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
As the title suggests, this book, written by Roy Peter Clark, contains 55 tips for writers. Roy Peter Clark has an extensive background in journalism; he has authored many journalism books and works closely with the Poynter Institute, a global center for journalism. In his book, he explains the tools, such as “Give keywords their space” and “Order words for emphasis,” through specific examples and insight from his own career. This book is particularly applicable for legal content writers because it is specifically aimed at the writing process.
Andrew’s comment: “This book is a reminder that great writing is not mysterious – it’s the result of using the right tools.”
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick focuses more on the content side of writing, rather than the more technical side of things. In the book, they urge people to focus on ideas that people can understand and retain. To bolster their ideas, the Heath brothers use several examples from history to explain what worked and what did not.
They also highlight the curse of knowledge, which points out the dangers of writing about something when you are an expert on the topic. When a lawyer is asked to write something for the firm’s content, it is most likely because of their background in that field. Their knowledge of the topic, however, can be negative; it is important to write in concrete, tangible terms that everyone can understand.
Andrew’s comment: “Although not strictly a writing book, it has many great lessons for writers, including that to create memorable content, you have to make an emotional connection with the reader.”
On Writing Well
On Writing Well, published in 1976, is tailored specifically to nonfiction. William Zinsser worked as a journalist and eventually ended up teaching at Yale, where he decided to write this book. Since then, he has posted several editions, updating each to fit with the progression of his life and societal values. Zinsser’s book is told in the first person, and it tends to address the reader directly, making it feel very personal. The book begins with simple rules and branches off into more specific sectors of writing, and it hits just about everything.
Andrew’s comment: “One of my favorite lines from Zinsser: ‘Rewriting’ is the essence of writing well – where the game is won or lost.’”
Looking for law firm content services? Head to Infinite Global’s website to learn about all that we do to help produce timely content.
Lindsey Lubowitz is completing an internship at Infinite Global before returning to Northwestern University, where she is a rising sophomore majoring in Journalism.