The best books to make your writing crystal clear

Tom Albrighton Author Of How to Write Clearly: Write with purpose, reach your reader and make your meaning crystal clear
By Tom Albrighton

The Books I Picked & Why

Plain Words: A Guide to the Use of English

By Ernest Gowers

Book cover of Plain Words: A Guide to the Use of English

Why this book?

I first read this as a teenager, and its wise counsel has stayed with me ever since. Gowers’ book was originally written as a guide for British government workers, to help them avoid the perils of jargon and ‘officialese’ and write in a way that colleagues and (more importantly) the person in the street could actually understand. 

The fact that I could immediately apply the ideas to my school essays shows you why this book has been continuously in print since the 1950s, and why generations of writers have found it so useful in shaping their own style. 

Practicing exactly what he preaches, Gowers lays down the principles of plain English, in plain English. Read and see why this deserves to be called a classic.

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Writing Tools

By Roy Peter Clark

Book cover of Writing Tools

Why this book?

I bought this when I saw it recommended online by a famous writer—and I’m very glad I did. 

The title is apposite, since this is less of an all-encompassing writing guide, more of a toolbox of 55 practical ideas to help you write better. Some are about the basics, while others are ways to give your text a compelling structure or a touch of extra polish. Away from the actual hands-on craft, Clark also recommends 11 useful habits to help you become a better writer. 

Buy it, keep it on your shelf, and dip in whenever you need a new direction or a dose of inspiration.

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The Elements of Style

By William Strunk, E.B. White

Book cover of The Elements of Style

Why this book?

Did you ever read a great piece of writing, and ask yourself how the writer managed to make it sound so good? If so, Strunk & White are the Morpheus and Trinity who will show you the code behind the Matrix. 

Chances are, you’ll already know—or at least recognize—a lot of the advice here. But you’ve still never seen it expressed so crisply and concisely. From basic elements of grammar, word order, and punctuation through to immutable dos and don’ts of writing style, there’s timeless advice on every page. 

Cut the authors some slack for writing 70+ years ago and you’ve got a superb little book that deserves a place on every writer’s desk.

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Writing to Be Understood: What Works and Why

By Anne H. Janzer

Book cover of Writing to Be Understood: What Works and Why

Why this book?

Some writing guides can be a little bit “citation needed.” The author certainly sounds like they mean it—but where’s the proof? 

There’s no such problem with Anne Janzer’s superb Writing to be Understood. Setting out to get to the heart of what makes a piece of text clear and memorable, she offers a masterclass in clear and expressive writing. 

Along the way, she interviews experts in every area from non-fiction writing to psychology, risk management, behavioral design, and even comedy, bringing their authoritative guidance directly into her book. Read, learn, and see your writing improve.

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Content Design

By Sarah Richards

Book cover of Content Design

Why this book?

The core skills of clear writing apply in every situation. But writing online brings special requirements of its own, just because of the way we use the web. And if you write digital content, Content Design will help you do it better. 

The author, Sarah Richards (now Winters), is a leading content authority who was head of Content Design on the landmark GOV.UK project. 

In this concise, down-to-earth book, she shares the principles of creating content that meets its users’ needs, from the science of how people read through to research, structuring, accessibility, plain language, and the practical process of researching, writing, and getting approval. All interspersed with immortal lines that I’ve quoted many times myself—like “It’s not dumbing down, it’s opening up.”

If you write online, you need this book.

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