My employer has presented me with two books to read to help me write better technical papers and emails. Essentials of English Grammar and Handbook of English Grammar and Usage. I have read through roughly 30% of the first book and have to say it is a painful read. I have thumbed through the second book and I feel it's going to have the same effect. The best way I can describe reading these books is like reading a dictionary.

Is there a book out there that is more engaging to read and still help me hone my writing skills?

Thanks for all of the input. I just ordered The Elements of Style, Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, and Writing for Computer Science. I will update this again with my opinion on the books.

6 Answers 6


Strunk and White's Elements of Style gets a lot of love, although it's also been getting some criticism, lately. But it's more about style than pure grammar.

I enjoyed Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but it's not exactly a basic grammar book. It mostly focuses on punctuation.

I also like the Grammar Girl books, but again, by taking the time to make her lessons fun and interesting, she sacrifices some of the scope of her work, focusing in on fairly limited areas.

What are the weaknesses in your writing, as far as you can tell? If it's straight-up grammar, you may have to resign yourself to working through some fairly dry material.

  • I wish I could say that I was given a bullet list of things to improve upon, but from self assessment I know a few topics that I need to work on. Proper word selection: affect/effect, punctuation, and correct tense (especially in technical papers). Note commonly used Homophones like to/too their/there/they're etc I am very comfortable with ( I am really knocked on the affect/effect the most :) )
    – Adam Lewis
    Sep 12, 2011 at 2:36
  • If it's just individual questions, Grammar Girl's got a good website, grammar.quickanddirtytips.com, with a search box. I tried the affect/effect thing, and I liked her answer.
    – Kate S.
    Sep 12, 2011 at 10:46

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Williams and Colomb. This book more than any other helped me write with power and confidence. Also clarity and a modicum of grace.


Writing for Computer Science by Justin Zobel is tied to the needs of the IT field, though in the research context.


I do actually read certain dictionaries and encyclopedias for fun, so I won't be of much help, other than offering another vote for Strunk & White. :)

Actually, I feel like you're going about this a little backwards. You say you weren't given a bullet list of to-fixes, but you did a self-assessment. I don't know how much that's going to help you — if you knew what needed fixing, wouldn't you have done it correctly in the first place?

My suggestion is to find an editor to go over several of your pieces and build that bullet list with you, so that you have an outside, professional opinion about what you need to work on. Then you can focus on those areas, and read just those sections of the books instead of fighting through explanations which put you to sleep and don't apply to you.


Lyn Dupre's BUGS in Writing: A Guide to Debugging Your Prose is aimed at writers in technical fields. And it's more fun to read than most writing guides.


Donald Knuth has an illuminating set of lecture notes for a course on "mathematical writing" here: http://tex.loria.fr/typographie/mathwriting.pdf

It covers some things specific to mathematics, but I think it would help with broadly technical writing too.

  • Can you give some information about the contents in case the link goes dead, or perhaps the print source if there is one? Thanks.
    – justkt
    Sep 24, 2011 at 3:33

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