Top critical review
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Very basic overview of web usability in general; few specifics on writing
on October 31, 2007
I'm a usability researcher who's looking to get some concrete suggestions about how to write better for the web. That's what I was hoping to find in this book--a guide with detailed suggestions for how to do this type of technical writing. Instead, there are very few concrete suggestions in this book about how to write well, other than vague platitudes about keeping phrases short, and providing users with the content they'd like to see. Duh.
I read this thing cover to cover in about an hour. Mostly I learned that "killer" rhymes with "filler." A lot. If it has not yet occurred to you that you might want to talk to your customers about what they're looking for on your webpage, then I guess this book would be for you and would provide you with that revolutionary insight. That's all the advice there is in this book--talk to your customers to find out the content they're looking for on your webpage, and then deliver that content to them in small, easily digestible phrases. Again, duh.
For people who are just starting out on this type of research, there's really no detailed advice on how to conduct this "talking to your users to find out what they want" research though (other than some more platitudes like "be a good listener."). If you want more detailed advice on how to do research like this, I'd say search the web for "wants and needs analysis" because that's basically what this guy is recommending. If you can't find enough things for free on the web about that, there is a good chapter in the book "Understanding your users" by Catherine Courage on this technique. That book is also great for giving you a wide toolset of techniques for usability.
He also gets a little bit into persona creation, which is basically a fancy way of saying it helps to imagine who your customers are and have a picture of them in your mind as you design your user experience. Again, you can find free stuff on the web about this or check out Tamara Adlin and John Pruitt's book "The Persona Lifestyle" to get lots of great information about this technique.
If you're truly just starting out trying to figure out how to make your website better and you don't know where to begin, I think a way better guide is Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think." That book provides a great overall context for providing great user experiences in general.
I am looking forward to reading the new Ginny Redish book on this subject! Her stuff has been high quality in the past and so I expect she will have a bunch of actual information on how to write for the web as opposed to the filler in this book. It's pretty ironic that a book all about providing great content without a bunch of filler is...a bunch of filler. It was a killer for me but not in the way it intended to be.