Ginny Redish’s “Letting Go of the Words”

Jonathan Murphy

August 1st, 2007

Editing your site’s content can be an exhaustive and time-consuming job. However, it’s absolutely critical to your site’s success. In her great new book, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, Ginny Redish gives several helpful guidelines that design teams should keep in mind when working on their site’s key messages.

Give users what they need.

Your users probably don’t care about the history of your project. Nor do they want a flashy intro page welcoming them to your site. If this content is important to you but not to your users, it needs to be either cut entirely, dropped to the bottom of the page, or set aside in a link to another page. Knowing what your users value creates value for your site.

Cut! Cut! Cut! And cut again!

Most web users don’t want to read a lot of content. Instead, they want to be able to visit your website, grab the information they need, and move on. Read aloud what you’ve written: does it convey all the information your users want or need in a concise way? If not, don’t be afraid to cut it! Pink is the new black, iPhone is the new Razr, and less is the new more.

Begin with the key point.

I know this goes against everything you were taught in high school or college writing; trust me, I was an English major. While we’re used to the traditional style of writing as intro, body, and conclusion, this narrative style will not serve your users well. Instead, begin with your main point, and follow it with any supporting information you feel will be relevant to your users.

Ginny is an expert we recommend all the time to clients looking to write successful web content. If you haven’t checked out Ginny’s book yet, I highly recommend you take the time to read it.

Do you spend a lot of effort editing the words on your site? How does your team assess what content is valuable to your users?

6 Responses to “Ginny Redish’s “Letting Go of the Words””

  1. Stephanie Says:

    To answer your questions, for a lot of the sites I’ve worked on, the content is not considered part of the site design or is where my clients choose to save money. It gets left for the organization’s administrative staff to write when they have time or recycled from ancient print marketing materials. I’ve worked on a few projects that were prettier, easier to navigate and more accessible when they were done but I didn’t feel they were any better because the text still sucked :(

  2. Daniel Szuc Says:

    We also see “content” being seen in organisations as the “poor cousin” of web design and maintenance efforts. The content is usually migrated directly from marketing materials and suggest some of this relates to not seeing the web site as a strategic channel in the first place i.e. how can we sell better on our web site? How does our web site compliment the sales process via other channels? What questions do our users want answered on our web site that they can do faster themselves?

  3. Jim Says:

    I owe a lot to Ginny Redish. Her work has proved immeasurably useful in my career.

    But based on this summary alone, I’m wondering what’s new in this work and why it’s so groundbreaking. These are the same basic principles that technical communicators have been practicing for well over a decade, as their work moved from paper to online.

    Perhaps this is the first time that this information has been packaged for this particular audience.

  4. Daniel Szuc Says:

    Hi Jim, suggest there is what we know (technical communicators, Designers, Usability, UX etc) and what our audience (people we sell our services to) needs to know.

    So having books like this help us market what we do more effectively to people that need to know.

  5. Jonathan Murphy Says:

    Jim: Good points. I agree, a strong focus on content is nothing new to technical communicators. However, in our testing, we continue to encounter examples of websites that don’t put an emphasis on writing effective content that helps users achieve their goals.

    As Stephanie & Dan already pointed out, in many cases, web content is lifted from marketing material or written by people who might be great writers but don’t have a grasp of how writing for the web is different. That’s why I think it’s essential to keep reminding design teams of the importance of prioritizing content.

  6. Sam Says:

    Letting Go of the Words is fantastic and it has helped my writing so much. I finally figured out why people weren’t reading my writing online. I edit my articles repeatedly, although I imagine there will come a time when I don’t need to as much. Thanks for the post!

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