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What’s the best advice I can give to those who’d like to improve their writing skills? Read. Read voraciously. Read material that challenges you. See here and here for more specifics.

For that frequently asked question, particularly by those who have been out of school for awhile, “Do you recommend a good book for general brushing up on my writing skills?”, oh, yes — but make that a handful of books:

1)       Strunk, William Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

A classic now in its fourth edition, this is a slim, concise volume that will help you with any form of college (or professional) writing.  It offers rock-solid advice and is destined to become a frequent reference, but it’s also charmingly written and definitely readable in a day.

2)      Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham, 2004.   

A best-selling, entertaining book that outlines the history and proper usage of punctuation marks in the English language.  If you fear your own punctuation skills may be deteriorating with every text message you send, this book is for you.

3)      A writer’s handbook of your choice.

Two very good ones to which my own English Comp students have responded positively:

Hacker, Diana and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.

Raimes, Ann. Pocket Keys for Writers. 3rd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.

*I’ve listed the most recent editions here…certainly, older editions are still floating around and most of the basic information will be the same.