Price: $19 (buy it at Amazon)

While people might be drawn to a website by great design, they come back for compelling content. Paradoxically, responsibility for that content is frequently left in the hands of those least qualified to create it: the client or the developer.

If the site budget can’t afford a copywriter, editor, or content strategist, that’s likely where responsibility will sit. The good news is that the vast majority of people are literate: unlike design or development, they already understand the basics. The difference between being able to string words together and creating good content is a process that uses a few proven rules to produce solid writing. Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose aims to provide exactly that.

Quite correctly, the authors (Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee, both respected writers and editors) don’t discuss design or typography, and barely touch web development. Rather, the slim volume takes a content-first approach: well before the look and code of a site, content comes first, always. To that end, Nicely Said creates a writing production guide that covers:

  • gaining information from clients and stakeholders
  • producing a mission statement and project brief
  • developing an appropriate voice and tone
  • building a community
  • selling concepts, services and products in copy
  • the neglected art of writing a good apology when things go wrong
  • crafting user flow through a site with words
  • working together in teams with a styleguide

Above all, Nicely Said stresses continuous engagement and practice with content development, together with how to avoid common mistakes (and occasionally, rules to break). Very few people can write complete, perfect copy the first time: good writing is equal parts technique, passion, and consideration, disciplined by an editor’s pen. Nicely Said makes that process engaging and fun, with practical examples used at every level, including a site development scenario that continues through every chapter. That practicality also extends to chapter highlights of interviews with industry leaders and experts in the field, where they talk about their own experiences, best practices, and workflows.

The book’s coverage is not limited to body copy: microcopy, writing for social media and eMail are all addressed too. There’s a strong recognition by both authors that a site’s message is modular, and has to fit on every device, from a television to a phone.

Nicely Said should be read by anyone who touches site content. Not only do I intend to make it required reading for students in my web design & development classes, but it will also become an end-of-project gift provided to any client of mine using a site developed around a CMS… especially clients who want to take control of their own content.

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