Nicely Said – a Book Review

In the introduction, Erin Kissane calls Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose (by Nicole Fenton and Katie Kiefer Lee) ‘a writing guide that grounds its wealth of practical advice in empathy for readers and their needs’.

If you read our blog regularly you’ll know this focus on the user resonates with us.

It’s the perfect introduction for anyone new to writing for the web. It also offers valuable tips and advice for experienced web editors looking to develop their writing.

Let’s get in to some of the advice for writing for the web with style and purpose.

Do your research

In our training we’ve been hammering home the need to plan your content. In a chapter on ‘getting your bearings’ this book offers some key points you should consider when preparing to write:

  • understand the material
  • define your goals and mission
  • identify your audience and address their needs
  • decide how you want to talk to your audience

Writing guidelines

To achieve a good level of writing the authors recommend you regularly practice this set of guidelines:

  • be clear
  • be concise
  • be honest
  • be considerate
  • write how you speak

We provide a similar list of top 5 tips for writing for the web to our editors. If you get these right you’ve got a good foundation to build on to develop your writing style.

Writing style

Something I found incredibly useful about this book was the clear definition of voice and tone – and the difference between them.

Voice is your personality; it influences how people perceive you and doesn’t change much.

Your tone changes depending on the situation; it’s directed by the audience you’re writing for.

Voice + tone = writing style.

The power of words

I want to round of this review with a quote from the book. In a single sentence it conveys a clear message about the power of your words and the importance of good writing:

“Your words can guide readers, bolster their decisions, and encourage them to take action.”

Read more

I’d encourage you to read this book to get more detail on the topics I’ve introduced, and so much more. I’ve definitely picked up some valuable advice that will improve my writing.

You can find out more about the book and its authors on the Nicely Said website. There’s also a good list of free resources, including articles and essays, for you to read around the subject.

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Keeping Up to Date

In our Making New Year’s Resolutions post we shared our resolutions to improve websites and the services we provide to web editors. Mine was to develop a process for keeping up to date with advice from web industry experts.

I’ve already subscribed to a number of blogs and newsletters via email, and I read lots of articles and books but this is often sporadic and fragmented. When I do read something useful I often don’t do anything with that information, so it just sits in my inbox or on my desk.

I aim to come up with a systematic process for collating, reading and, most importantly, using the information I read to help inform our work. In this post I’m going to explain how I’ll tackle this.

Collating articles

I’ve set a rule in my inbox so that emails from blogs and websites I’ve subscribed to go directly to a folder for web articles. This will limit the disruption to my workflow.

I’ve also created a Trello board to help organise my reading. It contains different lists for different web topics that I read about such as content strategy, writing for the web, user research etc.

I’ve then dedicated some time on Friday mornings to go through the web articles folder and skim read articles to determine whether they will be useful. If an article looks relevant I’ll create a card in the relevant list in my Trello board for it and I’ll include the link to the article.

Reading articles

I’ve also blocked out some time every Monday afternoon to read the web articles I’ve collected from the previous week. Since the articles have already been categorised in Trello, I can quickly select articles that are most relevant to the projects I’m working on that week.

Allocating a dedicated time will allow me to focus solely on the article, as it will become another piece of planned work.

Using the information

After reading the article I will then use it in some way to inform our work. So, depending on the nature of the information, I might:

  • write some notes about it (so that I have a bank of information for reference)
  • share with the team via email or team meetings
  • write a blog post about it to share with our wider web community

Or I might end up doing a combination of these things.

Have a go

Why not give it try? Dedicating just half an hour a week to reading articles from industry experts can give you tips to improve your web content, and some context to what we’re doing with Go Mobile.

I’ve listed a couple of sites that I find useful to get you started:

Related posts

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Six Articles that will Help you Improve your Content

I read. A lot. And I love to share what I’m reading when I find something that will prove interesting or helpful to others.

Here are six articles that provide further information on some of the concepts we cover in our training for web editors. They offer practical tips on improving your content, from adding structure to enhancing search optimisation. Many also include reminders of the essential elements of writing for the web.

1. Writing great page titles and headings

A great practical guide to writing page titles and headings. Learn how you can write headings to engage and inform your users, and improve the search optimisation of your page. All examples included are from university websites.

“three guidelines that will help you create titles and headings that rock: 1) describe, 2) contextualize and 3) simplify and clarify.”

Read the full article on the Meet Content blog: Introducing Your Content – Page Titles and Headings

2. The importance of an introduction

This article by Jakob Nielsen from 2007 is still relevant today. It highlights the importance of introductory text on a web page… but only when done well.

“short intros can increase usability by explaining the remaining content’s purpose”

Read the full article on the Nielsen Norman Group website: Blah-Blah Text: Keep, Cut, or Kill?

3. Bold benefits your readers and search ranking

This article makes it on to the list simply for having a reference to Star Trek.

Ok, not really. The idea of using bold to aid search engine optimisation was something that participants in our first training session found useful. Here’s an article that outlines it in more detail.

“the head of Google’s webspam team, Matt Cutts, has hinted that the search engine might look favourably on bolded phrases.”

Read the full article on the Sticky Content blog: To boldly go – how bolding words can give you SEO lift-off

4. How to improve information-rich websites

We’ve all got pages on our sites where there’s a lot of information to cover. Sometimes it’s hard to see how we can make this less dense and more engaging. This article provides some solutions for how to present complex information without overwhelming your users.

“When there’s a blizzard of information users can struggle to complete the task they came to your site for.”

Read the full article on the Sticky Content blog: 3 problems with information-rich websites and how to solve them

5. The problem with duplicate content

This post presents three reasons why duplicate content is bad for your website. Find out how it affects your users, search engines and you.

“duplicate web content can impact findability, usability and user comprehension.”

Read the full article on the Meet Content blog: Why Duplicate Content Is Bad for the Web

6. Why you need an editorial calendar

Richard Prowse, our counterpart in the digital team at the University of Bath, offers an introduction to editorial calendars. He covers why they’re useful and what you need to consider when creating one.

“you can use an editorial calendar to plan which content you’ll need and by when”

Read the full article on Richard’s Content Bear blog: How to Create an Editorial Calendar

Help us build the ultimate reading list for web editors

Are there any articles that you’ve found helpful in explaining a concept relating to planning or writing web content? Share them in the comments.

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