Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose

By Cléa Hernandez

Writing for the web is pretty commonplace these days. So why read a book about it?

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Nicole Fenton and Kate Keifer Lee’s book, Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose, teaches two major things that other books on writing or traditional copywriting may not:

  1. How to write a user-friendly story that folds in all your content elements  

  2. How to address your web readers’ needs and support your business goals at the same time

Anyone who has attempted web copywriting will agree. Sounding natural while promoting yourself or business online is rough, and telling your story in a user-friendly format is surprisingly unlike any writing you’ve ever done before.

It’s kind of like trying to skateboard over cobblestones: it feels weird and jerky while you’re doing it, it’s hard to gain traction, and it makes your audience question just who you think you are and what you think you’re doing. An awkward experience all around. Best to lay some pavement first.

Good content is clear, useful, and friendly. It helps you work toward your goals and speaks directly to your readers.

Nicely Said

Nicely Said is essentially a best practices guide to web content. It’s a nifty Swiss-Army knife packaged in a much bigger tool kit, with extra do-it-yourself sundry organized around it. The unifying function is to teach you how to create structure around inspired web copywriting. And somehow, it’s equally enlightening whether you’re a professional writer or not.  

This book’s multi-pronged approach gives you all the formulas you need to write in a way that “sells without selling out.” As the author puts it, “helping people and making them happy is the best kind of marketing you can do.” Preach.

Things you’ll learn how to do:

  • Write marketing copy, interface flows, blog posts, legal policies, and emails

  • Develop behind-the-scenes documents like mission statements, survey questions, and project briefs

  • Find your voice and adapt your tone for the situation

  • Build trust and foster relationships with readers

  • Make a simple style guide

Note: Lee’s cred comes from being a writer and editor at MailChimp. MailChimp’s publicly accessible content style guide consistently gets gold stars from the word nerd consortium.

Then there’s the larger toolkit these formulas are nestled into: content strategy, which is Fenton’s area of expertise. You may not realize how much content strategy you’re actually learning, in fact, until you’ve read through the first chapters. You start to suspect when the authors talk about content auditing and interface flows. Stick with it, even if it’s not what you came for – it’s unbelievably helpful. Especially packaged with the real-world examples they give.

Think it through. Consider the most important aspects of your products and services. What are the main parts or features? What do they mean to your readers?

Nicely Said

These fantastic ladies get a jumping double high five from me. Totally recommend this book for anyone who creates web copy and/or content. The bonus interviews with people who put these ideas into action every day are especially valuable: people like Kristina Halvorson from Brain Traffic, who literally wrote the book on content strategy (Content Strategy for the Web), Tiffani Jones Brown of Pinterest, Randy J. Hunt of Etsy, Mandy Brown of Editorially, and more.