There are infinite shades of grey. 

Writing often appears so black and white.”

~Rebecca Solnit

Writing is challenging yet rewarding. The books below have influenced how I write and continue to shape how I teach college-level writing. I guide students through various aspects of each book in my composition courses and always encourage them to read them independently. These are some of the best books on academic writing you can find, especially for those new to the genre. For a more extensive list, click HERE.

Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing

Author: John Trimble

When I first began teaching, I assigned this book to my first-year composition students every semester, and every semester students raved about how much this book helped give them the confidence they needed to write. What I appreciate most about this book is the author’s willingness to break the rules when necessary and his eagerness to serve his reader. Yes, writing is an act of service. We write to serve our readers. Writing well is one way to show love and care for another person.

They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing

Authors: Cathy Birkenstein and Gerald Graff

They Say I Say - Best Writing Books

There are two significant aspects of this book. The first is the main argument the authors put forth about writing. To join a conversation, you must articulate what others have said before you to express your opinions. The second significant part of this book is the pages and pages of templates included in the back. Graff and Birkenstein tell you when and how to use these templates throughout the book, and you can find them all in the back for easy reference. I require this text for the remedial college-level courses I teach, but I could quickly adapt it for my first-year students, and I always recommend it.

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Author: Mignon Fogarty

Grammar Girl - Best Writing Books

Grammar Girl is fantastic, and if you don’t subscribe to her podcast, you should check it out. This book goes through various rules and contains helpful tips to remember them. I still recommend you keep John Trimble in mind when learning the rules, and feel free to break them when necessary and appropriate. But to break them, you must know them. Thankfully, Grammar Girl keeps it fun. 

The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing

Author: Michael HarveyThe Nuts and Bolts of College Writing - Best Writing Books

This book is a compact and easy-to-understand text on writing. It will reteach the basics that you were taught in high school and again in college. In the spirit of George Orwell’s critical essay, “Politics and the English Language,” the author of this book encourages writers to avoid the pompous style of writing that characterizes so many young writers trying to sound intelligent, sophisticated, or academic. Instead, writers get down to the nuts and bolts of what they hope to communicate to their audiences. This book serves as a guide to help writers eliminate the fear of the writing process.

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Author: Lynne TrussEats, Shoots, and Leaves - Best Writing Books

I never thought I would find a defense of punctuation a joy to read. This book is hilarious, especially considering it’s all about punctuation. The author’s writing style is tongue-in-cheek-informative. If that writing style is new to you, it’s because I just made it up. There is a children’s book that is lovely and humorous as well. A question I like to ask my students when we think about punctuation is which mark best embodies their personality. 

The Elements of Style

Authors: William Strunk and E.B. WhiteThe Elements of Style - Best Writing Books

This work is small and mighty and ought to be read (or skimmed) once a year. Channeling the spirit of Shakespeare, the authors taught me from a young age that brevity is wit. I keep this in mind when I write and teach. The book includes elementary rules of usage, principles of composition, a few matters of form, a list of 49 words and expressions commonly misused, and 57 words often misspelled.

Note: If you have to pick just one, I suggest The Elements of Style. It’s the cheapest and the best bang for your buck. Also, you can get it for only .99 on Kindle.

5 Responses

  1. Hey Prof Manuel! If you had to choose one of these (or if a certain someone at this current time could only afford one), which would you say is most beneficial towards learning how to communicate and formulate sentences and ideas through writing overall?

    1. Adam! It’s good to hear from you. Out of these 6 books, I’d start with Elements of Style. It’s cheap, short, and will be a great refresher for you since you are such a decent writer already.

    1. Wow, haven’t found someone who doesn’t like his style. What don’t you like about his writing philosophy?

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