BOOK REVIEW: Become a Better Writer

Cover of Become a Better Writer book

Any book that contains the following paragraph pretty much has my vote:

“Like electricity, paragraphs are often taken for granted until they’re absent.”

In Become a Better Writer: How to Write with Clarity and Simplicity, authors Donald Powers and Greg Rosenberg unpack the techniques behind crafting good sentences for emails, reports, articles, presentations, speeches, novels and more.

Why this book and why now?

What’s the need for a book like this? Well, most people write poorly. Schools don’t teach enough and universities don’t teach what works in real time. Plus, best practices evolve and change. A definitive guidebook makes sense.

Spanning different writing types (with a strong bias towards non-fiction), Become a Better Writer is designed to highlight the common pitfalls that undermine good writing; to help the reader re-define what effective communication looks like now.

It’s been cited as a worthy local successor to William Strunk Jr and EB White’s classic, The Elements of Style. I don’t quite agree with this. For one thing, Become a Better Writer could never hope to break the ground that Strunk did. The world has simply changed too much.

For another, Strunk was a professional writer’s must-have, while Become a Better Writer is, in my opinion, a must-have for non-writers. For civilians.

I mean, look at this magical tip:

“Even if your subject matter is complex or technical, you can still write about it clearly. What matters is your attitude to the reader. You need to connect with them, sharing what you know rather than making them think, ‘Wow, this person seems to know so much – but I’m not sure I understand what they’re saying.’”

And this helpful guideline:

“…plain language and clear language are not always the same thing. You won’t always be able to use plain language, particularly when you’re writing about a complex subject. But you should be able to write about any subject, no matter how complex, in a way that is clear. Where plain language is not an option, ensure that your writing is lucid. If you fail this test, you are not communicating.”

I’m sorely, sorely tempted.

I have a giant forehead. Larger than your average. More of a fivehead, in fact. So, while I could probably tattoo at least one of the above truisms onto it, I’d not be able to fit both. I am, however, tempted to permanently etch this little goodie* into my skin:

“…’plain’ is a positive, highly desirable quality. A document written in plain language is one where the content, no matter how complex, will be accessible to a reader who is not an expert in the field.”

* Jokes! I would never tattoo the word ‘field’ onto my forehead. ‘Field’ is a weird word.

by Tiffany Markman

Copywriter, writing trainer, speaker and book reviewer Tiffany Markman reviews fiction and non-fiction books, films, theatre, and children’s media. For more writing like this, sign up here. To submit a book, show or item for consideration, email Tiffany directly.