Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Adobe Digital Marketing

Q&A with the Authors of Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose

Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee, the authors of Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose, answer our questions on the biggest mistake companies make with web content, how to get your customers to care, and advice for those who seek a career in writing for the web.
Like this article? We recommend

Peachpit: Why did you write the book? How does your approach differ from other books on writing for the web?

Nicole Fenton: We wanted to write the book we wished we had 10 years ago. There’s a huge gap between what we learned in school and what it takes to be a web writer in practice. There are plenty of great style guides and books on writing out there, but they don’t talk about the mindset of a web writer and they don’t give you exercises to actually get down into the work. So we wanted to do that.

We also wanted to convey that voice and tone and style are choices, not rules. Instead of outlining a list of what’s right and wrong, we wanted to teach other writers how to make those style decisions and share them other people, whether they’re clients, colleagues, or contributing writers. There are some guidelines that can help every web writer—like using simple sentences, avoiding jargon, and adding headings so people can scan—but developing useful web content is not something you can sum up in a top ten list.

Peachpit: What are the most important lessons that someone will learn from reading your book?

Nicole: To be true to yourself and your company. To write in an honest, clear, and kind way. And to see writing as an ongoing process and practice, not a step in a project or a one-time deliverable.

Peachpit: How did each of you get involved with writing for the web? What was your career path?

Nicole: I knew I wanted to be a writer at an early age, but I wasn’t sure where to start. As a teenager, I published poems, music reviews, and blog posts online, but I wasn’t doing that professionally. I studied English in college and decided I wanted to work at Apple after that, because I wanted to work on something I believed in. They were hiring customer service reps—not inexperienced web writers—so I took a call center job and worked my way up from answering the phone and writing canned responses to developing training, help center content, and interface copy. After five years, we had launched the iPhone and iPad, and I was editing communications for the global online store. While you don’t need a degree to write for the web, it helped me in some ways. I do think you need to be willing to help people with problems they’re trying to solve, and working at Apple taught me that. Since then, I’ve worked with nonprofits, agencies, startups, and small businesses as a writer, editor, and consultant.

Kate Kiefer Lee: I always wanted to be a writer. I studied media and communications, and an internship at a music and entertainment magazine turned into my first grownup job. I was an assistant editor, reviews editor, and then associate editor for several years. It was a wonderful and fun job, but the future was uncertain for print magazines, so I started doing some freelance marketing and copywriting projects. That eventually led me to MailChimp, where I’ve been for more than four years. There were only about 30 people at the company when I started as the first writer. Now we have about 250 people, and I lead a small team of writers and editors. I still love helping other companies with their content, so I write and teach whenever I can.

Peachpit: What’s the biggest mistake companies make with web content?

Kate: Companies get so focused on whatever it is they have to say, that they forget to think about the people at the other end of their content. This leads to writing that’s overly formal, confusing, and cold. You see a lot of companies talking about “us” and “we,” but they don’t take the time to learn about their audience and frame their content from the reader’s perspective. Thinking of your content as part of a conversation helps you communicate clearly and warms up your writing.

Peachpit: How can well-written web content get your customers to care about your products?

Nicole: In the book, we outline three guidelines for good content: it’s clear, useful, and friendly.

Clear content helps readers understand what they can do on your website and guides them through those tasks. For example, if I was preordering a book, clear content would explain how to order it, what it costs, and when to expect the book. Those details clear up confusion and help your customers feel comfortable. The web is full of mixed messages and bad content, but if you take the time to set clear expectations, that will help you stand out.

Useful content shows readers you’re paying attention to their needs. It solves problems. It supports your goals and your readers’ goals—and that builds trust, while supporting your broader mission. When content is useful, it gives people a reason to come back to your website or pass your content along to a friend.

Friendly content sets the tone for how you interact with customers. Being kind and showing your empathy is the best way to let readers know you’re not a creepy robot or an insensitive monolith. When you meet readers where they are, you show signs of being human and caring—and that makes difficult situations less frustrating.

Peachpit: You say that the writing process has four repeatable steps: research, clarify, write, and refine. Which step do most people skip, and why do they do this at their peril?

Nicole: Most people skip the first two steps and jump right into putting words together. But before you get caught up in the language, it’s important to figure out why you’re writing, who you’re writing for, what you want to convey, and how you want to talk about things publicly. That process of doing research, asking questions, defining your goals, and clarifying the plan with your team or your clients takes time and thoughtfulness. But it pays off, because it helps you avoid making useless content or getting into sticky situations with your readers. If you think about style and purpose, your content will support your business goals and hold up over time.

Peachpit: One of your guidelines for writing is “Write how you speak.” This seems to be a big challenge for many. What tips or tricks can you offer to make one’s writing sound more natural?

Kate: Read your work out loud. It helps you catch typos, improves your flow, and sound like a human. If you think to yourself, “That doesn’t sound like something I would say,” reword it. It’s also helpful to have a friend read your work out loud to you. Listen to their flow, and notice if they stumble over any words.

If you don’t know where to begin with a writing project, try recording yourself talking about the topic. It helps to pretend you’re having a conversation and answering someone else’s questions. Listen to the recording, and pay attention to how you phrase things so you can reflect that in your writing.

Peachpit: Which websites do you think do a great job of communicating in the right voice to their audiences?

Kate: There are a lot of companies out there who take the time to understand their audience and communicate to them clearly and kindly, and we share a bunch of examples in the book. One of the examples we share is Quinn Popcorn, a family-owned organic popcorn company who threads their story throughout their content. We also highlight Harvest, the invoicing and time tracking service, for their helpful and consistent technical documents. Gov.UK is a gold standard for clear and appropriate writing, and they have a set of style standards to support their content. Finally, we love NPR. They’re consistent, appropriate, and they have a wonderful ethics handbook that informs everything they publish.

Peachpit: You say that effective marketing is saying the right thing to the right people at the right time. What’s the best way for a web writer to practice and hone this skill?

Kate: Many companies mindlessly market at people instead of communicating with them like humans. Instead of only talking about what you want to say, take the time to think about what your readers need to hear from you. In the book, we go over some easy ways to find your audience and figure out what they need. This could include learning from customer interviews, or reading reviews and social media posts about you and considering the language people use. Choose your words carefully, and cut the fluff and marketing jargon.

It’s helpful to speak directly to people. Instead of saying, “We’re great, we’re awesome, we’re the best,” tell people what they can do with your product or service and what’s going to change for them. Check your “we” to “you” ratio, and cut straight to the verbs when you can.

Peachpit: What advice would you give to someone who wants a career in web writing?

Nicole: Read as much as possible. Find well-edited books and publications that inspire you. Practice writing something every day, even if it’s as small as an email.

Try new things. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. There’s writing involved in almost any job, especially in customer service. Go to meetups and conferences near you. Seek out other people working on content, digital products, blogs, and the web. Practice being an extrovert and asking other writers how they work. There are lots of presentations and videos about content and web writing online too.

Learn enough about the web to understand how it works. Be proficient in HTML and Markdown. Also pay attention to what your colleagues do and why it matters for your readers and your business. For example, if you’re working with a designer, developer, or researcher, make time to understand how their work fits into making a website and how it affects your writing and publishing process.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020