Review: Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works

Letting Go of the WordsThere are plenty of resources available nowadays about writing for the web and how it differs from writing for print. However, no other work I’ve seen comes closer to being a ‘one-stop shop’ for advice on web writing than Janice Redish’s Letting Go of the Words. It’s a nicely-produced book with well-chosen screen-shots and an easy-to-read style. The focus is on practical advice with a sensible emphasis on simplicity and focusing on website users’ expectations. It reads like a companion volume to Steve Krug’s excellent usability volume Don’t Make Me Think!, and Krug provides a fun foreword to this book.

The first two chapters focus on web content and web audiences in a broad sense. They review what good web writing consists of and how to focus on the specific needs of your site’s users. This includes a useful introduction to the use of personas and scenarios for user-centred design.

The book then looks in detail at writing good home pages, pathway pages and information pages. The coverage of pathway pages is particularly interesting, as this is a part of websites which doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention.

Some of the best stuff in the book is in the middle chapters which are primarily about the writing process itself. This includes sections about focusing on essential messages and tuning up your sentences. This is the part of the book where the title “Letting Go of the Words” comes to make most sense. There’s an emphasis on cutting away unnecessary verbiage and addressing users directly with short simple sentences, using words they would use themselves. There’s also a section on designing your web pages for easy use, which has some sensible advice about how design can impact upon the readability of web text.

Later chapters look at using lists and tables, headings, effective use of illustrations and writing meaningful links. The section on links is particularly useful, providing guidelines and examples you can usefully hand on to any content authors who are addicted to using “Click here”.

Finally the concluding section has good advice on drafting, working with reviewers and creating a style guide. There are additional special sections on writing online press releases and legal information which will be useful for a lot of corporate sites where these ubiquitous sections are often badly realised.

In general, I’d recommend this as a guide to web writing to anyone involved with creating websites, but its non-technical nature could make it especially useful as a resource for authors contributing to an organisation’s website via a content management system. If you can’t afford to send your web authors on courses about writing for the web or haven’t got time to write extensive guidance for them yourselves, then buying a copy of this book and sharing it around would be a great way to help them start thinking appropriately about how to approach online content creation.

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works is by Janice (Ginny) Redish and is published by Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.

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