10 Books You Ought to Read

February 23, 2016

I don’t think it will come as a particular shock to anyone that I refer to books when I need to learn something new or increase my current pool of knowledge. As a result, I have quite a collection of books about all kinds of things, and a lot of them are on writing and grant writing. But, despite the large collection, there are only a few of them that are my “go-to” books when I need to check something. These books have an honored place within grabbing distance of my desk chair and so, I think they ought to have a similar place in your library.

Writing in General

How to Write a Lot

Paul J. Silvia, PhD (ISBN 10: 1591477433)

The cover says “A practical guide to productive academic writing” and that sums it up nicely. This is a fun and fast read by an expert who, while sympathetic to the challenges of sitting down and getting your writing done, takes apart the most common excuses and replaces them with a plan that works.

Write It Up

Paul J. Silvia, PhD (ISBN 10: 1433818140)

Although presented as a guide for writing journal articles, you can just as easily use the heart of the advice in this book on any writing you do. However, it breaks down the journal article writing process into manageable pieces and gives seasoned advice on writing as a coauthor, getting published, and other common issues. For a beginner, I think this is a “must read” and for more seasoned researchers, I recommend this book as a refresher.

A Writer’s Reference

Diana Hacker (ISBN 10: 0312450257)

This is a great book for when you have a question and want quick, practical advice in language that you can understand and in a format that’s easy to use. There are multiple handbooks in this series that can assist with your specific needs. Just to be clear, nearly ever year there is a new version. So, if you acquire an older copy, be aware that there could be a few changes/differences since language in itself is a fluid art form and is constantly evolving.

How to Write Anything: A Guide and Reference with Readings

John J. Ruszkiewicz, PhD and Jay T. Dolmage, PhD (ISBN 0312674899)

This book supports writers wherever they are in their writing process. Designed to be clear and simple, the Guide lays out focused advice for writing common academic and real-world genres, while the Reference covers the range of writing skills needed including narratives, reports, arguments, evaluations, and proposals as well as rhetorical, causal, and literary analyses.

Grammar and Language

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English

Patricia T. O’Conner (3rd Edition ISBN: 978159448890)

A light-hearted look at the language, because let’s face it, English is weird. This is not a book you should just sit down and read, but rather, skim over to familiarize yourself with and then refer to it when you need it (“is it effect or affect?”). You would have a few laughs if you did. I am a personal fan of her punctuation chapter, not only because it is called “Comma Sutra” but because she relates all the punctuation signs to traffic signals, which for some reason really works for me.

Top_Books-1566 The Elements of Style

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (4th edition ISBN: 020530902X)

This book is an excellent reference to have on hand while writing if you have specific questions about grammar or punctuation. (I use it quite a bit for my ongoing struggle with comma placement.) It is not designed as anything more than a reference, so treat it like you would a dictionary. The information is correct, but not always as complete as you might like (for example, it offers advice like “be brief” without getting specific on how to do that). Do keep in mind the book has not been updated in about fifteen years, so it is mostly a guide to English of the past century. However, as I have said on more than one occasion, if you are going to break the rules, know that is what you are doing.

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace

Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup (11th edition ISBN: 0321898680)

Don’t let the cover fool you; this is a text book. It has exercises and notes, and while you may feel like you are back in the classroom, your writing will improve from spending some time with this book. But, unlike Dr. Silvia’s books, which you can read on an airplane and enjoy immensely, this book requires taking a few pages at a time and real discipline. The 11th edition (I have read the 10th and the 11th) is less stringent with sentence structure (I, for one, am grateful every time someone confirms that it is permissible to start a sentence with and or but.) but breaks down writing on both the paragraph and sentence level. This book will improve your writing if you move slowly through it and do the exercises.

Grant Writing

Proposal Planning and Writing

Lynn and Jeremy Miner (4th edition ISBN: 9780313356742)

This is a how-to book that focuses on all the pieces and is sometimes used as a textbook for grant writing courses. I especially like the samples in the book for both Foundation and Federal grant proposals. It is well written and well laid out with lots of excellent references and websites for you to use.

Demystifying Grant Seeking

Larissa and Martin Brown. Jossey Bass (ISBN: 9780787956509)

This book is targeted more to the professional grant writer for a non-profit or perhaps even a free-lancer, but the tips and suggestions for both sponsor management and just generally maintaining your grant opportunity searches makes this book well worth the read.

Grant Seeking in Higher Education: Strategies and Tools for College Faculty

Mary M. Licklider and The University of Missouri Grant Writer Network (ISBN: 9781118192474)

This is written for faculty members by people who are very familiar with the administrative side of the grant process, so the result is a how-to manual, a tool kit, and a bunch of reference materials that are quite handy. I recommend you read Part One (the how-to manual) and use the pieces of toolkit in Part Two when you need them.

Okay, what are your go-to books? I am always looking for new books to read and add to my collection.  Email me at keithly@utdallas.edu.

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