Books on writing are even more common than first-year Greek grammars. (I should probably revise that sentence.)
Here are six that I’ve found especially useful. I’d suggest reading them in this order.
1. William Strunk Jr. The Elements of Style. Wth revisions, an introduction, and a chapter on writing by E. B. White. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. 105 pp.
Perhaps Strunk’s most important advice is principle 17: “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should have no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines, and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell” (p. 23).
2. William Zinsser. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. 30th Anniversary Edition. New York: Collins, 2006. 321 pp.
- 2. Simplicity
- 3. Clutter
- 4. Style
- 6. Words
- 7. Usage
- 8. Unity
- 9. The Lead and the Ending
- 10. Bits & Pieces
- 19. Humor
- 25. Write as Well as You Can [esp. the section on editors, pp. 299––302]
3. Joseph M. Williams. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. With two chapters coauthored by Gregory G. Colomb. Rev. ed. Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1995. 208 pp.
Style is the most advanced book on this list, but I don’t list it last because it’s probably the best. These four chapters are outstanding:
- 1. Causes
- 2. Clarity
- 7. Concision
- 10. Usage
Update on 5/5/2016: Justin Taylor summarizes the book.
4. Anthony Weston. A Rulebook for Arguments. 4th ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008. 104 pp.
This could be subtitled “A Concise Guide to Logical Writing.” Kevin Vanhoozer required it for “Advanced Theological Prolegomena” (a course on theological integration required of all PhD students at Trinity), but it could easily serve as a supplemental text for a freshmen English course.
5. Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2008. 336 pp.
This is required reading for “The Theological Scholar,” a pompous-sounding course required for all PhD students at Trinity. It’s adapted as “Part 1: Research and Writing: From Planning to Production” (pp. 1–130) in a book you might already own: Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (ed. Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams; 7th ed.; Chicago Style for Students and Researchers; Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2007; 466 pp.).
6. Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2002. 799 pp.
This handy reference work is an abridgment of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.
Update: Two more books for this list:
- Steven Pinker. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. New York: Viking, 2014.
- Douglas Wilson. Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life. Moscow, ID: Canon, 2011.