Maxwell Hoffmann Reviews Word Up! for the Society for Technical Communication

The following book review appears in the February issue of Technical Communication, the journal of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). This issue has just become available online. STC members can log in and read the original review. Nonmembers can read the review, pasted in verbatim, below.

Word Up! Review

One barrier to effective technical writing today is time. Time to find relevant information. Time for consumers to “connect” with content from an SME. Time for those who create content to read yet another “how to” book on good writing skills.

Marcia Riefer Johnston has conquered time on all these levels. She has written Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) in bite-sized chunks that you can master in brief “sittings.” Johnston has condensed the topic content from 23 pages into 2-3 pages, while still making her book fun to read!

Word Up! is definitely a “must have/must read” addition to your reference library. If you do buy the paperback, I doubt that it will remain on your bookshelf for long. I am on my second paperback version because the first one looks like a thermal map, due to my endless multi-colored highlights and clouds of marginal notes. I also have Word Up! on Kindle, where I frequently refer to it while on the road.

Why? Johnston clears up many English language ambiguities and gives excellent examples on how to reduce word count, get to the point, and simplify your English content. As Scott Abel, Ann Rockley, Rahel Baille and countless other experts have made clear, Simplified English is essential to Machine Translation (MT). Our future career success depends upon how effectively MT can convey our intent for non-English speaking audiences.

Your first reading will also jolt you into realizing just how ambiguous and “context sensitive” our normal use of English is. Although Johnston doesn’t focus on this issue as a chapter-titled topic, each page of Word Up! meets the challenges of overcoming ambiguity.

Although I am a big fan of eBooks, I prefer the paper version of Word Up! because I can leaf through it and visually spot relevant prescriptions from catchy subheads and boxed maxims. A striking feature of this book is its relatively infrequent use of bulleted or numbered lists. Let’s face it, we all are prone to overusing “stair step” nested lists. Johnston does effectively use striking (and humorous) “before and after” examples.

Three of my favorite sections deal with commas, hyphens, and “How Not to Do How-To.” Since we all inhabit a world of rapidly diminishing attention spans among our readers, we couldn’t receive too much advice on the last topic.

Although I’ve written this review with technical communicators in mind, Word Up! is an ideal word/sentence/paragraph guide for anyone who does any type of writing. Even your Tweets and Facebook postings could benefit from Johnston’s prescriptions. Word Up! has frequently hit the “Top 10” technical communication list on Amazon. You will know why once you have read twenty pages of this book.

Maxwell HoffmannAbout the Reviewer

Maxwell Hoffmann is a member of the Willamette Valley STC chapter in Portland, Oregon, as is Marcia. He has more than 30 years of technical-communication experience and is best known to many for his role as a technical-communication product evangelist at Adobe Systems.