Letting Go of the Words

by Janish Redish

Reviewed by Steve Kersten for ClickStart


ISBN: 0123694868

Synthesizing current best practices in information design and technical communication, Letting Go of the Words is a major contribution to an area that already has some outstanding work. (For example, I highly recommend the Prices’ Hot Text: Web Writing That Works.) Providing us with a useful and usable compendium of information design guidelines, Redish creates experiences in this work that make you a better designer and writer. She immerses you in the real world of information design and writing for the Web. Letting Go of the Words practices what it (gently) preaches: information designers meet with success when they follow a user-centered design process and pay attention to the principles of how users read on the Web. These two concepts form the content of Redish’s work. Working out who her readers are, what our work is, and how we’re currently doing it, she configures her content so that we can absorb it and improve our work as quickly as possible.

At its most basic level, Letting Go of the Words provides technical writers with a set of guidelines and examples to follow. Dividing the effort of information design and content writing into 13 chapters, Redish adopts an unpretentious, readable style that sets forth each guideline with multiple examples, clearly laid out, accompanied by annotated screen shots of actual Web sites. Open the book at random: you’ll find usable information immediately. When requested to ponder examples she’s collected of less-than-successful writing, you’ll know exactly how to correct them. In practicing what she’s talking about, she becomes a trusted peer reviewer and mentor nonchalantly accompanying your learning and guiding your writing and design tasks.

In addition to well organized sets of rules, annotated screen shots, and checklists, readable and engaging case studies extend her efforts directly into the real world. She encourages you to participate in designing solutions that apply what she’s laying out. The case studies make the content real, applicable to your daily work, and, dare I say it, fun! Use the table of contents as the checklist of rules to keep by your side as you craft solutions for your users. Use the examples and case studies to internalize her recommendations.

The unpretentious graphic design that Morgan Kaufmann applied to the book’s pages contributes to the fun. The superb table of contents and thorough index ensure the book’s accessiblity. Well worth its price ($49.95 full price; discounted at the major online sellers), check out Chapter 1 (and the book’s front matter) online at the publisher’s Web site.