Because every business person needs to write well at work, there are hundreds of books specifically about business writing. I have a bookshelf and Kindle full of them because I read everything I can on this subject.
Many business writing books are meh, and some are good. One problem with a book specifically devoted to business writing is that business writing is comprised of different elements of general writing. A specific business writing book can be formulaic and reductive. “Use this model” doesn’t work well when the information that goes into that model changes and requires discernment.
These 12 books represent the best of the various elements that comprise good business writing.
I recommend these books to clients in Instructional Solutions' business writing courses.
BOOKS ON WRITING IN GENERAL
How to Start, be Organized, and Not Panic
1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
This book is the most applicable to business writing and one of my favorite books. Anne Lamott is brilliant, funny, and breaks down the process of writing. Anything Anne Lamott writes is a joy to read. This excerpt reflects the essence:
"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"
How to Extract the Essence
2. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
A little esoteric, but no one is better than extracting the essential core of a concept than Annie Dillard. Her advice in this book is the heart of writing an executive summary statement well. She also explores the joy and heartbreak of writing well.
BOOKS ON WRITING STYLE
Best How-to-Write Book
3. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
This book is the classic guide on effective non-fiction writing. If I had to choose only one book to read to improve business writing, it would be this one. It will help readers write better and understand how to improve what they’ve already written.
Best Current Style Book
4. The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
Its subtitle is “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.” Pinker is a Harvard lecturer and a master linguist. His writing is very entertaining. He takes a “descriptivist” approach to grammar, rather than a “prescriptivist,” by advocating clear language and breaking grammar rules when needed. This book is a must read for contemporary business writers, but in business writing I recommend staying with grammar rules unless clarity requires a break. Many business readers might pounce on a grammar “error,” not realizing that breaking the convention actually improves meaning.
The Classic Book of Style and Clarity
5. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
This little book has been the bible of style for over 50 years for a good reason. Be sure to read a later version that is edited by E.B. White, also, as it’s more comprehensive than William Strunk’s first edition.
Best Book to Cut Bloat
6. Why Business People Speak Like Idiots by Brian Fugere
Published in 2005, this book is still sadly very relevant. Business writing is drowning in jargon and meaningless buzzwords that obscure real information. It identifies four strategies to cut the bloat.
Best to Improve Sentence Construction
7. It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande
Strong sentences build strong documents. This book beautifully deconstructs clear sentences. This book is a wickedly funny, no-nonsense guide.
Best Grammar Book
Who knew grammar and punctuation could be so funny? This best-selling book is an impassioned manifesto, complete with amusing error examples (dead sons photos may be released). Truss leans more to the prescriptivist school of grammar than the descriptivist, which matches business writing requirements.
Best for Templates and General Guides
9. The Business Writer’s Handbook by Gerald Alred, Walter Oliu, and Charles Brusaw
Very useful for models and overall business writing standards.
If You Have a Website or Publish Internal Information to Staff
10. The Associated Press Stylebook 2019
The definitive style guide to use if you publish anything on the web. It is regularly updated. The 2019 version is now available and has an updated section on gender considerations.
Best for Current and Evolving Usage
11. Garner’s Modern English Usage, 4th Edition
An invaluable desk reference for grammar and usage. It has recently been expanded and covers both American and British usage. It’s especially useful for the evolution of new words and their usage.
12. The Gregg Reference Manual, 11th Edition
Traditionally, the Gregg Reference Manual has been the style guide of choice for business writers. It’s easy to navigate and depth of coverage is unmatched. The Associated Press Stylebook is now often a business’s standard guide, but Gregg has information not found in other guides.
What books about business writing have helped you? Please share in comments!