Reading about Writing

Kerrie Holloway's picture

Usually, the best way to write is just to write, but sometimes it's good to read what others say about the writing process to help you improve your writing or motivate you to begin writing. The following books have been recommended by fellow H-Grad subscribers as books that have helped them develop their writing throughout graduate school (now with handy Amazon links for more information!).

First, Brook Brassard recommends The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White; The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams and On Writing by Stephen King.

One of our editors, Kent Peacock, recommends Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success by Wendy Laura Belcher, although he says he hasn't read it himself but has heard good things about it. Petra Sapun agrees with this recommendation, saying it's definitely a good read and works best if you want to revise your existing research or an essay you've already written into an article. Petra also seconds Brook's recommendation of The Craft of Research, saying it's definitely a favourite that she rereads everytime she writes something. Also, Petra says, it works well for various disciplines, covering everything from how to transform vague ideas into well-formed arguments, how to conduct research and how to handle the writing process. Erika Szymanski believs Belcher's book is good if you're looking for someone to provide you a structure to follow and some motivation. She also adds: Writing books are like diets. Following one is good if you're trying to change something, and so long as the one you choose isn't wildly imbalanced and therefore harmful, which one is best for you is a matter of personal style, and she calls Belcher a good choice for reasonably confident PhD students as it won't talk down to you, but it also won't encourage unreasonable expectations.

Cody Foster recommends A Writer's Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies that Work and Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Non-Fiction, both by Jack Hart; How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish and "They Say / I Say": The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.

Nina Schreiner recommends Writing Archaeology: Stories about the Past by Brian Fagan as it's very approachable and breaks down the steps to writing archaeological books and articles from writing to looking for publishers and addresses problems like writer's block along the way.

Originally, I started this blog prompt by recommending Patrick Dunleavy's Authoring a PhD, a book which I bought when I started my thesis and found useful because of its technical, rather than theoretical, methods. Dunleavy goes into a lot of detail on how to make your writing balanced and well-presented, even so far as to how many words per sentence, per paragraph, per chapter he feels is ideal. For anyone who is daunted by a 100,000-word piece of writing, this is a good place to start. Also, I've heard good things about Umberto Eco's How to Write a Thesis, but I've still not read it. Finally, I mentioned that my goal for the summer was to read William Zinsser's On Writing Well. I did read it, but I'd hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Perhaps it would be useful for someone who comes to the end of their thesis/dissertation and realises they are several thousand words over the limit, as he does do a good job explaining how writers use about twice as many words as they need and how to fix the problem. Otherwise, I'm not sure it was very useful for me. 

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