Found in 26 comments on Hacker News
clolege · 2022-11-26 · Original thread
I've also been trying to improve my writing recently. What's helped me was to read through a couple of resources on how to write better [0,1,2], and then:

1. Apply the better writing advice to my everyday speech

2. Focus on writing down exactly what I wanted to say, and how I would have said it

School taught me to be super wordy and focus overly on the editing stage. Nowadays, I read everything I write out loud and if it sounds awkward (or not like me) then I just delete it and write it again from scratch. Oftentimes it helps to just close my eyes, say what I want to out loud, then write down what I just said.

It can turn out to be a little bit wordier, but it almost always ends up being easier to read :)

[0] [1] [2]

luxurytent · 2021-06-05 · Original thread
On Writing Well:

Also, practice. Keep writing. Write postmortems, discovery docs, blog posts, threaded tweets. Practice in multiple mediums and find your style.

lallysingh · 2020-09-28 · Original thread
A real human! Welcome! I'm glad to hear from _you_!

One last bit of unsolicited advice: your job is writing. This is the best writing book I've ever read that deals with the issues I saw in your writing:

You can tell the author knows what they're talking about because the book is a really easy read!

valbaca · 2019-05-31 · Original thread
I've taken the class within Amazon.

Honestly there isn't anything that you couldn't get by simply reading and applying the advice from "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White[1] and "On Writing Well" by Zinsser [2].

The primary philosophy is that if you can't write well, then you haven't thought it through. The act of writing is an act of reasoning.

0. Practice in a strong feedback loop. This applies for anything, not just writing.

1. Ruthlessly reduce your sentences. Repeat until you can't eliminate or combine any more words.

2. Avoid adverbs. Use "dashed" or "sprinted" instead of "ran quickly". Learn more words.

3. Avoid weasel words like "should" "could" "might". Take a stance and give concrete reasons.

4. Use concrete data over descriptors. "+5% profit" over "increased profit".

5. Write in active voice. Look up the "by Zombies" trick.

6. Use the simplest word that maintains your meaning. No one needs to use the word "utilize".



idlewords · 2016-09-10 · Original thread
The best guide I've ever read to writing nonfiction is William Zinsser's "On Writing Well". If you do any writing for work or pleasure, his advice is indispensable:

On Writing Well is entertaining on top of being instructive and informative. Very short read too. Every should get a copy.

nazka · 2015-11-23 · Original thread
On top of what have been said, there are two important advantages over young people that old devs should have. The first advantage is that compared to young people your advantage is your long experience in Computer Science. For instance: you should have a better understanding of your stack, you have mastered a lot of the basics of CS with several paradigms in different programming languages, databases SQL/NoSQL, etc... You may have a little bit of knowledge around the edge of your stack and outside...

For the second advantage it depends where you want to do. If you want to stay a dev and only code then the best thing to do is to master your stack and learn complex things. By doing that you differentiate yourself and increase the barrier of entry. So for instance to learn C++, AWS, Machine Learning, Hadoop ecosystem, webgl... Depending your field and what can be the next big hard thing with it.

Else, the other way is to go up in the hierarchy to be a team leader and maybe to go higher. At first you have been (or should) start to learn how to manage people. You should know how to lead your team when things are doing well but also when things are at the worst. Sometimes you have deadlines that are hard to meet. Sometimes the stress is at the maximum, financially the company is not doing well, or goals and ideas diverge... It's all the experience you need to get to be able to manage these situations and start to be a great leader.

Also you -may- start to learn to master git to be a team leader, to be able to fix the problems, and manage the repo for the code reviews. Another point should be to increase your communication skill, every day by talking with your team, by enjoying to write well written emails and speeches. These books [1] are a good start. And also a last point that I think is important is to start to get financial skills with things like financial management, accounting, and if possible to be able to do simple DCFs...


e12e · 2015-09-25 · Original thread
I'm afraid I don't really write enough to comment on how you should get started. Or rather how you should get finished. The idea of noting down ideas, snippets in a book (or digitally) is good. I have a couple of rats nests of small items, and todos, ideas -- 2/3s in various ColorNote[c]s on my Android -- the rest in text files in a mercurial repo).

If the idea you note down is any good today, it'll be a good idea tomorrow too. And a year from now.

If you have enough good starting points, actually spending some time writing out an essay from them becomes easier. Remember you'll probably want to do at least three re-writes if you're hoping the result is going to be any good. Lots of people don't do that -- and it shows. Most half-decent blog posts would've been a lot better if the authors took the time to rework them a bit more. Or, according to Hemmingway: "“The first draft of anything is shit.”

So with the caveat that I don't actually write much (yet?), the best book I've read on writing is: William Zinsser's "On Writing Well":

Highly recommended for anyone that have to communicate in writing (ie: everyone).

> I don't have anything to say to people who know less than me, because explaining obvious things seems boring, and I don't know what to say to people on HN/LessWrong, because I feel like they are smarter than me and already know everything I am about to say.

For essays, it can be good to write for yourself. To yourself, or someone much like yourself, but someone who's perhaps not yet encountered one particular idea, one particular technique -- one particular subject.

That usually gives a good framework for avoid "talking down". Write to yourself of one, two or five years ago. There will be many that don't have that last year, years of experience and circumstance that led you down the path to were you are now. Perhaps such a perspective makes it easier for you to share something?


I mostly use Colornote to keep track of ideas, such as app/application/project ideas along with a couple of bulletpoints (eg: Reinvent email: look into alternative client/server sync such as jmap; store email in normalized sql db?; document db?; store attachments based on content hash? (free de-dup); Store email body as same? (Good for multi-user server support for mailinglists ... etc))

samsolomon · 2015-08-08 · Original thread
On Writing Well by William Zinsser

It's absolutely the best book for anybody who keeps a blog or writes any sort of non-fiction. I try and re-read it once a year.

I have three short answers for you.


2. Watch the video at the end of this link: The take away is write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite some more.

3. Pay attention to the people who write well in your life. When you read an email that feels well written try to figure out why you like it. And use those elements in your future writings.

brudgers · 2015-03-02 · Original thread
Zinnser's On Writing Well improved my writing. Alabama Power does not take internet points, however, and I remain talentless.

These two books helped me. The downside is I get annoyed now when reading other people's bad writing.

MarlonPro · 2013-07-31 · Original thread
@sillysaurus I'm not sure if you're a book-reader. I am reading your comment and I am seeing the exact person this book is talking about. If you like to read about non-fiction writing, I suggest "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser.

Here's the amazon link:

Just like coding, the "shortest" path to becoming a good writer is practice - practice everyday.

e12e · 2012-11-25 · Original thread
The best single source I've come across that helps with writing, is "On Writing Well":

It has plenty of examples and advice on various types of writing.

Beyond that, my advice is to simply read good texts. One starting point would be:

Or, for something newer:

While doing a quick search, I also came across this:

Which seems to be a great starting point.

griffordson · 2012-10-30 · Original thread
On Writing Well, by William Zinsser is a classic that you may find useful.

jeremyt · 2012-07-13 · Original thread
I've read those, which are good, but I think this one is better than all of them put together:

iamdann · 2012-06-22 · Original thread
On Writing Well by William Zinsser ( is fantastic. It's not specifically about ad copy, having passion about what you're writing, as well as the fundamentals in this book, will help a ton.
bretthardin · 2011-11-22 · Original thread
I read somewhere, "It doesn't matter what you write, just write."

I agree with that statement. I also suggest the book, "On Writing Well." It helped me greatly with writing.

kroger · 2010-07-06 · Original thread
I recommend On Writing Well by William Zinsser:

jgrahamc · 2010-04-06 · Original thread
When I was working on my book O'Reilly sent me a copy of "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser ( I read the entire book and I thought it was well worth it. One of his best pieces of advice is to end each paragraph leading the reader to the next one; the reader should want to know more.

It's slightly amusing that the first sentence of the linked article is grammatically incorrect: "How to make engineers write concisely with sentences?" is not a question despite the question mark. The second sentence is overly long and uses three commas to give the reader breathing space.

cwb · 2009-06-01 · Original thread
Strunk & White's The Elements of Style deserves a mention here in case anyone has missed it -- clear, concise, and practical writing advice.

1999 edition on Amazon:

1918 edition online:

For more hand-holding, On Writing Well by William Zinsser is worthwhile.


TomOfTTB · 2009-02-24 · Original thread
I agree with what the author is saying but take a slightly different approach to it. I think writing well is important but I think more focus should be put on writing succinctly. Because if you write succinctly it forces you to be clear.

This is the theory of William Zinsser's On Writing Well (

It's one of my favorite books and its primary point is that verbosity is the enemy of clarity and therefore the clearest sentence is also the smallest one. I think that concept is a 1,000 times more important than having perfect grammar.

Oh, and to bring this back to tech, I think this concept is even more important given the sheer amount of data available to use today. Everyone should be trying to write as succinctly as possible just so their readers can fit it all in.

tokenadult · 2009-02-19 · Original thread
The excerpted book

is wonderful. I have my doubts about whether the professor who posted that long excerpt on a public website really understands what "fair use" is about in United States copyright law. But if readers read the excerpt after following the link here and then buy the book, that would be a good outcome.

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