On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition

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On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet. Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental priciples as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sole, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.

Curriculet Details
61 Questions
61 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in the 11th and 12th grades, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining the writing process, purpose, and style. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about tone and interviewing techniques. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of literary devices, writing best practices, and language. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

The curriculet is being added to your library

Homework #6

Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Are there any words on this page that you need to look up? 
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How would you characterize the writing advice given by the author and Dr. Brock? 

Homework #7

This quote is posted near where Thoreau's cabin was located in Walden Woods, Massachusetts. (This annotation contains an image)
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The author here is focusing mainly on non-fiction writing.  Do you think the rewriting process would be different for fiction?  When does 'style' come into play? 

Homework #8

This is not the only verbal legacy of Watergate. Also coined - "the big enchilada," as well as other sayings. Learn more about this in this short article from the Chicago Tribune.  (This annotation contains a link)
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What literary device does the author utilize here? 

Homework #9

Although this book is a work of nonfiction, there is a strong, second-person narrative voice. How would you characterize the tone of this narrative voice? (This annotation contains a video)
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Why is it difficult to persuade some writers to write in first-person? 
Television journalism is also guilty of excessive wordiness in reporting. The character of Perd Hapley in the television show 'Parks and Recreation' is a parody of these overly verbose reporters.  (This annotation contains an image)

Homework #10

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What is the author's point about authenticity? 
H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) was, among other things, a satirist and cultural critic. His views on religion and government were pretty controversial in his time. (This annotation contains an image)
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In your own words, explain the paradox of Zinsser's claim in this paragraph. How does not following the rules show a mastery of them? To what effect? 

Homework #11

Not everyone agrees with Zinsser on the subject of 'journalese.' Read this short editorial and consider what merits this kind of writing has.  (This annotation contains a link)
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The literary device in which the sound of the words used is pleasing to the ear is called 

Homework #12

How do you think the author would feel about the word 'omnishambles' being voted the word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2012? (This annotation contains a link)
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Everyone has a misused word or phrase that really annoys them and sets their teeth on edge.  What is yours and why? 
What is your opinion of Zinsser's tone here? Is he being a language snob, or do you think he is being completely reasonable?  (This annotation contains an image)

Homework #14

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What literary device is this an example of? 
Do you think these are apt examples? Tolstoy and Melville wrote fiction, so do you think his advice still applies?  (This annotation contains an image)

Homework #15

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All of the following opening lines (taken from published books) fit Zinsser's criteria for a good lead EXCEPT 
What have you learned about the author based on the kinds of examples he uses? For example, do you think he is a baseball fan? Why? 
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What is the power of the narrative as a structural choice? 
Avant-garde writers disregard the conventional rules of style and format -- such authors include Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf, and Italo Calvino. 
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In your own words, explain why writing beginnings and endings are so difficult. 

Homework #16

Passive vs. Active Verbs  (This annotation contains an image)
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Do you think Zinsser's advice about adjectives is universal? Could a poet also benefit from what he says about adjective use? 
Overuse of exclamation points can also make the writing appear juvenile in addition to being frivolous.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Going against the grain of most English teachers, Zinsser says that it is okay to start a sentence with 
In a letter to a classmate, D.H. Lawrence gave this advice about adjectives: "Do be careful of your adjectives—do try and be terse, there is so much more force in a rapid style that will not be hampered by superfluous details. Just look at your piece and see how many three-lined sentences could be comfortably expressed in one line." He also broadly generalizes about "girl writers," so hopefully she took his advice with a grain of salt.  (This annotation contains a link)
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What are some recent examples of writers/journalists inflating the truth? What happened to their credibility? To the credibility of the genre? 
Read this brief article on gender-neutral pronouns. Do you think there is a solution here?  (This annotation contains a link)
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Why is it difficult for writers to admit that they need to rewrite? 
In this video, John Truby gives some advice about rewriting (focus on screenwriting).  (This annotation contains a video)
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Why might some writers prefer writing longhand or on typewriters even now in the 21st century?  
In this picture, Zinsser converses with Pittsburgh Pirates coach Ray Miller during spring training in 1989.  (This annotation contains an image)
Quiz 1 
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How can books about these subjects be considered 'elegant'? What makes reading such books worthwhile even if you do not have a real interest in them? 

Homework #18

Wolfe's 'The Right Stuff' (1979) is an inside look into the early space program and its astronauts.  (This annotation contains a link)
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This is a (somewhat cheeky) example of what literary device? 

Homework #19

In this video, Katie Couric goes over good interviewing techniques. Even though she is a television journalist, do you think her advice could also be applied to writing nonfiction?  (This annotation contains a video)
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Which of the following fits the criteria of a good interview subject? 
If you want to see some awkward interviews, you should watch some of the interviews on 'The Daily Show' feature stories. Though, to be fair, the interviewers in most of these stories want them to be awkward for the sake of humor, mocking, or satirical purposes.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Even when conducting an interview for a written piece, why might it be beneficial to video record the interview? 
Consider how the author has structured this book. Even though it is a work of nonfiction, can you identify some structural choices Zinsser has made comprehensively as well as on a chapter level?  (This annotation contains a video)
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What can you infer about why Mitchell's journalistic writing  is superior compared to the likes of Masson and McGinniss? 
After the James Frey 'A Million Little Pieces' controversy, people became more aware of the issue of fabricating details in nonfiction ('creative nonfiction'). In this article, essayist David Sedaris talks about 'realish' writing, and whether or not the distinction matters. What do you think?  (This annotation contains a link)

Homework #20

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Of all of the places you have visited, what city or country would you write a travel essay about? What unique element would you focus on and why? What would you avoid writing about? 
Author Joan Didion in 1977  (This annotation contains an image)
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Based on McPhee's description, what is the idea of Anchorage? 
These 'clubs' were the precursors to what we know as gangs today.  
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How does Wolfe establish tone and atmosphere in this excerpt of The Right Stuff? 
Zinsser's definition of travel writing seems a bit broad. The essays in Baldwin's book 'The Fire Next Time' could more easily be described as social critique and memoir. 
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What connects these three places through the descriptions given by the custodians in regards to those who visit? 

Homework #21

Consider why these writers feel that they have to write for editors and teachers. Are they just writing for personal reasons or are there other factors in their motivation for writing? What do they hope to gain by doing so? 
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If not for publication or as an assignment, what is the purpose of writing about oneself?  
What is a memoir, and how is it different from a diary?  (This annotation contains a video)
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Writers can vividly evoke a sense of time and place through their use of 
Earlier, Zinsser expressed a distaste for made up words such as this. Why does it work here? 
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What gives these memoirs about cultural differences weight? 
Is there a difference between a memoir and an autobiography? Is one medium better than the other?  (This annotation contains a link)

Homework #22

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Explain the merits of this assignment. How would this help someone with a fear of science or writing be more at ease? 
Take note of the shift in style of this section. The author is using a question and answer format to illustrate how this particular science article hots the main points. 
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How does the author add a human element to this story on memory? 
Recently, CBS Sunday Morning did a piece on Safdie and his innovative housing complex he designed for the Montreal Expo '67.  (This annotation contains a video)
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Why does Zinsser use quotes around the word writer here? If Rachel Carson writes well, then doesn't it follow that she is a writer? 
You can read articles from I.E.E.E. Spectrum online.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Zinsser uses the Q&A style again for this example. Do you find this style helpful in instruction of how to write a similar article? How? 

Homework #23

Much like with journalism, business also has its own language and jargon.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Identify examples of jargon in this letter to a parent. Why might this be an ineffective way to communicate with parents? 
Why do you think the first author shied away from using "I" in his letter? Is it always appropriate to use first person in written communication? 
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What does the use of jargony language take away from communication? 
It seems like it should be a no-brainer, but many professionals need a tutorial on how to write a clear and effective memo to their employees -- much like this one.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Why are some people reluctant to give up the use of jargon? 

Homework #24

Can you think of some other sports cliches?  (This annotation contains an image)
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What is lacking in this example article? How could it be improved? 
Ted Williams and Babe Ruth  (This annotation contains an image)
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This is an allusion to famed short story writer Guy de Maupassant. What point is Zinsser trying to make about the "would-be Maupassants"? 
In this video, a former Formula-1 driver shows the physical challenges of racing, including dealing with g-forces. (This annotation contains a video)
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How would you describe the tone of this article? 

Homework #25

What does it mean to be a critic? How does it differ from other kinds of nonfiction writing?  (This annotation contains an image)
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Write a summative sentence about your favorite movie. 
Here is the trailer for "A Cry in the Dark" (1988), starring Meryl Streep.  (This annotation contains a video)
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How can humor be a 'lubricant'? 
Every year, there is a contest for the most scathing book review, called 'The Hatchet Job of the Year.' Here is the 2014 shortlist. (Spoiler alert, AA Gill's review for Morrissey's autobiography was the winner.) What do you think about the idea of this award?  (This annotation contains a link)

Homework #26

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The humor of parody mainly lies in 
Mauldin (1921-2003) was a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist best known for his cartoons about WWII soldiers.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Explain the significance of White's quote. What happens when you try to explain a joke to someone? 
Doggerel is usually unintentionally funny.  (This annotation contains a link)
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How is satire (like the excerpt by Allen here) different from parody? 
Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon segments on 'A Prairie Home Companion' are a precursor to the current popular humor podcast 'Welcome to Nightvale.'  (This annotation contains a video)
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All of the following can be said of writing comedy EXCEPT 
Zinsser's examples of humorists are sorely lacking in females. Can you think of any female humorist essayists or writers? (If you haven't heard of Sarah Vowell, you should definitely take a look at her work!)  (This annotation contains a link)
Quiz 2 

Homework #28

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Why does writing that seems effortless actually take a lot of effort to achieve? 
Edmund Burke also attempted to pin down taste in his essay "On Taste" (1759): "But to cut off all pretence for cavilling, I mean by the word Taste no more than that faculty or those faculties of the mind, which are affected with, or which form a judgment of, the works of imagination and the elegant arts. This is, I think the most general idea of that word, and what is the least connected with any particular theory. And my point in this inquiry is, to find whether there are any principles, on which the imagination is affected, so common to all, so grounded and certain, as to supply the means of reasoning satisfactorily about them. And such principles of taste I fancy there are; however paradoxical it may seem to those, who on a superficial view imagine, that there is so great a diversity of tastes, both in kind and degree, that nothing can be more indeterminate." 
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This continues the motif of advice about writing being somewhat 
Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.  (This annotation contains an image)

Homework #29

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This paragraph is an example of what piece of advice Zinsser gave previously? 
Ginsberg is not the only writer who quit his day job to be a writer. Franz Kafka and Wallace Stevens both worked for insurance companies, for example.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Imagine that you have been assigned to write a story on philatelists (stamp collectors). Knowing nothing about the subject, how would you approach it? 
Peterson's mixed media paintings are limited to the media of different paints and pencils. Some contemporary artists push the envelope using materials one wouldn't normally expect in a piece of visual art. (Pictured - Arcadian Cluster, Mixed Media installation by Shinique Smith)  (This annotation contains an image)
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Instead of focusing his story on the birds, what does Zinsser hone in on? 

Homework #30

When you have the time, listen to this episode of Radiolab in which an author (Eugene Thacker) wrote a book with the complete expectation that no one would read it. As a challenge to himself, he wanted to know what he would write if he were just writing for himself alone. What happened afterward is pretty amazing.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Why might someone be vulnerable or self-conscious about what they have written? 
This kind of artistic collaboration is sometimes called workshopping. 
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What point do you think the author is trying to make with his observation that players no longer change together in the locker room? 

Homework #31

Sometimes a graphic organizer can help in trying to organize your writing.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What conception of Timbuktu does Zinsser evoke in this paragraph? 
In his unconventional travel book 'The Innocents Abroad,' Mark Twain lampooned American tourists who went on these Grand Tours of the continent and the Holy Land. He characterized many of them as rubes or 'ugly Americans' with more money than sense.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What do you think would constitute an exotic location today? Does a location have to be 'exotic' in order to write something new or foreign? 
Timbuktu is a World Heritage site.  (This annotation contains a link)
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The author's reference to this A.E.W. Mason book is an example of what literary device? 
This is reflective of a pretty no-nonsense style that is in keeping with most of Zinsser's methods of writing.  (This annotation contains a video)
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In addition to a narrative tone, how would you describe the tone of the section about the camel caravan? 
Stone frieze  (This annotation contains an image)
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What is Zinsser's point in sharing the Mitchell & Ruff example? 

Homework #32

A family history is a good example of writing for yourself. Only you (and members of your family) would probably be interested in reading it. 
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What are the benefits and the drawbacks to both styles? 
These memoirs fall under the category of 'Tell-Alls.' They might initially gain a lot of press, but don't garner much respect.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Which of the following statements about writing a memoir would the author agree with? 
The focus of your memoir is you, not the events happening around you. Zinsser's memoir takes place within the context of a major world war, but it is not a history book; he writes about how his experience in the war influenced him and his world outlook. 

Homework #33

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The term 'baggage' usually has a negative connotation (as in a weight to be carried around; a burden).  In this context, what might be a more apt metaphor? 
Can they be both?  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why is an editor changing a writer's work without their consent problematic? What is at stake? 
Quiz 3