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

Who am I?

I’ve been working with words for over 25 years, as a writer and editor in publishing houses, design studios, and now as a freelance. I help everyone from big brands and small businesses through to academics and consultants get their ideas out of their heads and on to the page. I was an original co-founder of ProCopywriters, the UK alliance for commercial writers. I’ve written and self-published four books, the most recent of which is How to Write Clearly. The books I’ve chosen all helped me to write as clearly as I can—not least when writing about writing itself. I hope they help you too! 

I wrote...

How to Write Clearly: Write with purpose, reach your reader and make your meaning crystal clear

By Tom Albrighton,

Book cover of How to Write Clearly: Write with purpose, reach your reader and make your meaning crystal clear

What is my book about?

Aliens have abducted all the freelance writers in the world! OK, that’s not true. But How to Write Clearly is the book I wrote when I imagined it was.

If my clients suddenly had to write for themselves, what would I tell them? I’d deal with titles, sentences, and structure. I’d talk about plain language. I’d cover key steps like planning, research, editing, and feedback. I’d share ways to make your message real, like metaphors and stories, and ways to explain new ideas and make them stick. Finally, I’d bring my guidance bang up to date with the latest ideas in education, psychology, and digital user experience. Basically, if you need to express yourself clearly on the page, How to Write Clearly is for you.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Ernest Gowers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Plain Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Be short, be simple, be human.'

When Sir Ernest Gowers first wrote Plain Words, it was intended simply as a guide to the proper use of English for the Civil Service. Within a year, however, its humour, charm and authority had made it a bestseller. Since then it has never been out of print.

Six decades on, writer Rebecca Gowers has created a new edition of this now-classic work that both revises and celebrates her great-grandfather's original. Plain Words has been updated to reflect numerous changes in English usage, yet Sir Ernest's distinctive, witty voice is undimmed. And his message…

Writing Tools

By Roy Peter Clark,

Book cover of Writing Tools

Why did I love 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.

By Roy Peter Clark,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Writing Tools as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tools Not Rules' says Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, the esteemed school for journalists and teachers of journalists. Clark believes that everyone can write well with the help of a handful of useful tools that he has developed over decades of writing and teaching. If you google 'Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools', you'll get an astonishing 1.25 million hits. That's because journalists everywhere rely on his tips to help them write well every day - in fact he fields emails from around the world from grateful writers.

'Writing Tools' covers everything from the…

The Elements of Style

By William Strunk, E.B. White,

Book cover of The Elements of Style

Why did I love 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.

By William Strunk, E.B. White,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Elements of Style as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You know the authors' names. You recognize the title. You've probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style, the classic style manual, now in a fourth edition. A new Foreword by Roger Angell reminds readers that the advice of Strunk & White is as valuable today as when it was first offered.This book's unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of "the little book" to make a big impact with writing.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Anne H. Janzer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Writing to Be Understood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Have you ever wondered what makes your favorite nonfiction books so compelling, understandable, or enjoyable to read? Those works connect with you, as a reader. When you recognize what's happening, you can apply those same methods to your own writing.

Writing To Be Understood is the thinking writer's guide to effective nonfiction writing techniques, such as:

- Using analogies to illustrate unseen concepts
- Appealing to the reader's innate curiosity
- Balancing humility with credibility

For each topic, the book combines insights from cognitive science with advice from writers and expert practitioners in fields of psychology, technology, economics, medicine, policy,…

Content Design

By Sarah Richards,

Book cover of Content Design

Why did I love 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.

By Sarah Richards,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Content Design as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 2010 and 2014, Sarah Richards and her team at the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service did what many thought impossible: they took over 400 separate government websites and transformed them into a single site designed to effectively serve its users. In doing so, they defined a new discipline: content design.

Content design isn’t graphic design or just copywriting under another name. Content design focuses on what content best serves the users’ needs, whether it be the written word, infographics, visuals, videos, or charts.

At the core of content design are the needs of the users—and this means determining what…

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