The Best Books on Academic Writing

The Best Books on Academic Writing

There are infinite shades of grey. Writing often appears so black and white.”

~Rebecca Solnit

Writing is hard and rewarding. The books below have influenced the way I write and continue to shape the way I teach college-level writing. I teach through various aspects of each book in my writing courses and always encourage students to read them on their own. These books 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 freshmen composition students every semester, and every semester students rave about how much this book helps give them the confidence they need to write. What I appreciate most about this book is the author’s willingness to break rules when necessary and his eagerness to serve his reader. Yes, writing is an act of service. We write to serve our reader. Writing well is one way we can 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 really great aspects of this book. The first is the main argument the authors put forth about writing. In order to join a conversation, you must articulate what others have said before you in order to put forth your own opinions. The second really great part of this book is the pages and pages of templates included in the back. The authors tell you when and how to use them throughout the book, but they are all located in the back for easy reference. I require this text for the remedial college level courses I teach, but I could easily adopt it for my freshmen, 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 is full of helpful tips to remember them. I still recommend you keep John Trimble in mind when learning rules, and feel free to break them when necessary and appropriate. But in order 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 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 important 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 smart, sophisticated, or academic. It serves as a guide that will help 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 such 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.


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 at least skimmed) once a year. Channeling the spirit of Shakespeare, it 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, elementary principles of composition, a few matters of form, a list of 49 words and expressions commonly misused, and a list of 57 words often misspelled.

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

5 thoughts on “The Best Books on Academic Writing”

  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.

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