Book review: Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish

Posted: March 29, 2012 in Book reviews

When I first decided to write book reviews on this blog, Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish was the first book I chose to read. I kept hearing about it over the course of my studies (I think it had been required reading in another class), and only good things. Of course, life and schoolwork intervene as they always do, and it took me this long to get through it. It’s not a particularly long book, but an extremely dense one: it contains not a word that does not have good reason to be there. We can glean that the author is adept at applying her own advice, “letting go of the words” that do not serve a purpose, in order to make room for the many that do.

I actually examined this book in three different formats: the Kindle book on the iPhone app, the Kindle book on the iPad, and the physical copy of the book. I was a first-generation Kindle owner, but the device pooped out on me early on, and I was disappointed enough not to invest in another. From that time on I did most of my reading on the iPhone app, which worked out quite well for me. So that’s how I got this book. I have to say, at $30, it was a bit of an investment for an ebook, but considering that the paperback is $50, it was enough of a discount to make it seem worthwhile, especially since I generally prefer electronic reading.

The problem is that this book was full of highly detailed images that were just not conveniently viewed on the app. There are lots of samples of web pages, with their tiny print you’re supposed to read, and the callouts that comment on them, and cartoons talking with word bubbles. These were all very difficult to read on that tiny screen. Plus, the steps added by the zooming in process: tap the picture to select it, fingers out to enlarge it, drag it around to read different parts of it, tap the “x” to deselect the picture and go back to reading. Sure, it’s a simple enough process. But almost every page of this 350-page book contains such an image, so the extra time spent tapping and dragging adds up.

I decided that the book was so jam-packed and visual that my review would be best served by perusing the physical copy, so I picked it up from the local community college library. THEN, I got an iPad for my birthday [does iPad happy dance], so I was able to view it on the Kindle app there as well.

Verdict: you definitely want the hard copy of this book. It is just so image-laden, well-organized, and browsable. Plus, like most books about document design (which this one is, to an extent), it is a really well-designed document. The parts that are inconvenient and difficult to read on the electronic version are well-laid out and enjoyable to browse in the print.

Now for the content.

For the most part, this is a book that I wish other people read. A lot of it is, to me, where I am in life right now, common sense. Maybe this is generational. I’m in my early thirties–no Spring chicken, but younger than a lot of the people who found themselves trying to write web content when this book was written (2007 is rather recent, but it’s an eon in technology years). Maybe it’s technological–I’m one of those tech-savvy people who uses the internet for everything, so I’ve honed a taste for what’s good and bad in web writing. Maybe it’s my career path: I’m a technical writing major, so obviously I have a good idea of organizing and simplifying information.

But man, can I think of plenty of sites where I wish the authors had read this book. If you are not a writer or information designer, and you find yourself writing web content, whether for your own website, your company’s, or a client’s, please please please read this book. You will be so glad you did, and more importantly, so will your readers.

This book contains a LOT of information. Some of it is pretty common knowledge. Don’t write in all caps, people. Some of it is new. How to write web-based press releases? Yes please!! Some of it I agree with wholeheartedly. DO NOT MAKE ME SIT THROUGH A FLASH ANIMATION TO FIND OUT WHAT TIME YOUR RESTAURANT OPENS. Some of it I do not. Seriously, if you put cardboard cut-outs of our customers’ “personas” in the meeting room, I am going to laugh my ass off. But there is such a wide variety of topics and chapters that it’s impossible not to learn a few things, whoever you are.

I almost hesitate to get into specifics about this book. THERE ARE SO MANY SPECIFICS. But I’ll go ahead and give a sampling.

  • I know your 11th grade English teacher wouldn’t let you use “I” and “you” in your papers, but this is not that class. Refer to your visitors as “you.”
  • Hyperlinks should make sense. “Click here” is not helpful.
  • Blind people read the internet, too. Accommodate them.
  • No giant “walls” of text, please. Break it up. Short paragraphs, lists, tables.
  • Put important information at the top. A lot of people are just not going to scroll down.


The entire book centers on the idea that users bail easily. Huge blocks of text? Bail. Can’t find the information they want? Bye bye. PDF where they want a web page? Peace out. Even if your visitors don’t cut and run, you don’t want them frustrated or annoyed. Just like a store manager wants happy, smiling customers, a web designer and/or author wants happy web surfers.

Even though I feel a lot of the information in this book was just review for me, I’d recommend it to pretty much anyone who has to do some web writing. I think web designers could really use this, as could those of us who run our own business websites. There is plenty to absorb here.

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