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Book Review: Everybody Needs This Book

Do you write on the job? If yes, you need Ann Handley's Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. It’s the best book on creative business communication I have read since Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick.

As Handley writes, "If you have a website, you are a publisher. If you are on social media, you are in marketing. . . . We are all writers." Yes, we are. Even if you don't have a website and don't tweet or blog for your company, you can't sit out the game. Your proposals, recommendations, resumes, presentations–even trip reports and program updates–all have to communicate well to win.  

Everybody Writes serves as a model of how to communicate valuable information in crisp, satisfying chunks. A dazzling 74 chapters live up to the promise of their power-packed chapter titles, helping you learn (or relearn) ways to: 

  • "Shed High School Rules" 
  • "Embrace the Ugly First Draft"
  • "Swap Places With Your Reader"
  • "'Cross Out the Wrong Words'"(with a nod to Mark Twain) 
  • "Show, Don't Tell" 
  • "Keep It Simple–but Not Simplistic" 
  • "Be Rabid About Readability"
  • "Ditch Weakling Verbs"
  • "Tell the Truth" 


Writing is not an art, according to Handley, an authority on writing and marketing. In her view, “Writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn." She helps writers with all three parts.

To develop better habits, she offers Part I, "Writing Rules: How to Write Better (and How to Hate Writing Less)." Her chapter "Follow a Writing GPS" lays out steps to help you arrive at your final draft. After setting your virtual GPS to your writing goal, follow these directions (Handley provides landmarks and helpful tips along the way):

  1. "Reframe: put your reader into it."
  2. "Seek out data and examples." 
  3. "Organize." 
  4. "Write to one person." 
  5. "Produce The Ugly First Draft." (Handley also calls this step "Show up and throw up," which makes the point while making me wince.) 
  6. "Walk away."
  7. "Rewrite." 
  8. "Give it a great headline or title." 
  9. "Have someone edit." 
  10. "[Take] One final look for readability." 
  11. "Publish, but not without answering one more reader question: what now?"

For that last step, Handley elaborates: "Don't leave your readers just standing awkwardly in the middle of the dance floor after the music stops. What do you want them to do next?" 

Other parts of Everybody Writes cover the fundamental rules of grammar, usage, storytelling, publishing, and journalism including sourcing, interviewing, and curating content.

Here are a few Handley quotes I will remember and use in business writing classes (with attribution, of course): 

"White space is a prerequisite, not a luxury." 

For a writer seeking a client's or manager's approval: "Seek an OK, not opinions. Please approve is likely to deliver far fewer edits than will please tell me if you have suggestions." 

"The longer the . . .  sentence . . .  the longer the brain has to postpone comprehending ideas until it can reach a point where all of the words, together, make sense." 

"What would your content look like if your customer [not your boss] signed your paycheck? It's up to you to advocate for this point of view." 

A huge gift to writers is Handley's Part V, "13 Things Marketers Write," which advises on writing for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, including LinkedIn profiles. It covers writing email, landing pages, home pages, About Us pages, headlines, blog posts, and more. 

Part VI, "Content Tools," is a 21st-century writer's e-toolbox, brimming with organizing tools such as Evernote and OneNote, writing tools like Scrivener and Draft, productivity apps such as Write or Die and WriteRoom, and editing tools and apps including Grammarly, Hemingway, and 13 others. 

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content is a complete writing cookbook, something to pore over and savor. I read it on a cross-country flight from Seattle to Raleigh, North Carolina, and will return to it for reminders on slicing and dicing blog topics, writing annual reports, and "newsjacking," that is, creating quick content that ties to stories in the news. 

Everybody Writes is published by Wiley, runs 298 pages, and retails in hardcover for US$25. Buy it as an investment in yourself or as a treat for the business writers in your life. 

Syntax Training 

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

4 comments on “Book Review: Everybody Needs This Book”

  • Lynn, your blogs always serve food for thought. Thanks for useful blogs. I always enjoy reading them. And surely,I would really like to go through the book by Handley.

  • Lynn, thank you for this thorough recommendation. I’ve made a career out of providing administrative support to executives, small-business owners, and various entities in-between. In this role, I’ve always written…a lot. But lately I’ve felt stuck and bored, and writing anything at all has been such a chore. I will be purchasing this book, as it seems like it offers the spark I need to refresh my skills, ideas, and interest.

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