There are infinite shades of grey. Writing often appears so black and white.”
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.
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.
Authors: Cathy Birkenstein and Gerald Graff
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.
Author: Mignon Fogarty
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.
Author: Michael Harvey
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.
Author: Lynne Truss
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.
Authors: William Strunk and E.B. White
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.