When I teach my digital writing workshops, writers often ask me to recommend a great go-to book about web writing. There are hundreds of options available, but one key problem: Many authors are not good at combining the "how" and "why" in one book.
"Letting Go of the Words" by Janice (Ginny) Redish masters both. Redish not only provides an excellent how-to manual for effective web writing, she clearly explains why her recommendations work. Unlike some marketing books, "Letting Go of the Words" doesn’t sermonize. That’s how Redish really illustrates the entire point of her book. Every section is practically geared toward helping the reader understand a concept or write better copy.
Some of the biggest strengths:
- Great examples pulled from actual websites illustrate her points
- The second edition keeps up with technology by addressing mobile apps
- The book is written like a website, not a print product: short, punchy graphs broken up into easily-digestible sections
"Letting Go of the Words" helps you see the big picture
Redish’s title is compelling: Why does a book about web writing want you to let go of the words? The table of contents offers a hint. The first chapter that directly talks about how to write better copy doesn’t start until page 197.
The previous 200 pages address such topics as:
- Why web design matters
- How to structure home pages
- How to break up and organize content
- Including useful headings
In other words, you can produce exceptional writing, but it isn’t enough if visitors leave your site because the design is awful, can’t find their way off the homepage to get information, or if Google never finds you because of poor SEO.
Some might say that such devotion to visual and structural elements is unnecessary in a web-writing book. Not so! I tell my clients all the time that, on the web, white space is just as important as content. People don’t want to read dense, text-heavy paragraphs. If you want to draw visitors, design matters.
"Letting Go of the Words" emphasizes ‘less is more’
Redish emphasizes that less is more, both in how many words you write and how you present them online. Her advice sums up the whole point of web writing: "Most people come to the web for information, not for a complete document."
Redish uses the inverted pyramid – a writing tool that’s been around for decades – to teach you how to cut to the chase faster. It’s an "old media" format that still works today. This strategy is one of Redish’s strengths: She doesn’t ask you to reinvent the wheel; she just teaches you how to re-apply tried-and-true writing skills you may already have.
Ginny Redish teaches you to write for your readers
Throughout the book, Redish returns to a key takeaway: every inch of your website is an opportunity for online conversation. She explains how every link is a potential "marketing moment." But as the writer, you can’t engage your reader unless who know who that person is.
I’ve been teaching writers the importance of audience for years in my digital writing workshops. Redish’s advice for keeping your imaginary reader in mind works well. She suggests creating personas: composite characters with a name, picture and specific demographics who represent real groups of people who may visit your site. Advertisers have been using them for years. Redish shows us how well they work for digital writing.