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Word Up! ain’t just a Cameo song: A TechCommGeekMom book review

Cameo-Word_Up!Being that I came of age in the late 1980s, my immediate thought when I hear the words, “Word Up!” is the Cameo song playing with all its funkalicious glory.  But now, “Word Up!” has a new meaning for me as well.

I’ve just completed reading an advanced copy of the book, Word Up!: How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build From Them) by Marcia Riefer Johnston. Marcia and I met back at the Adobe Day event at Lavacon last October, and since then we’ve bonded over several interests, including our love of writing. I had first heard that Marcia was in the process of writing this book during the Adobe Day event, so when she asked me to read and possibly review the book, I was thrilled that she considered me as someone who could provide a constructive critique. When she sent me the copy, she stipulated, “[Please write] any kind of review you feel inspired to write: short, long, thumbs down, thumbs up. Or write nothing. No expectations, no strings.”

WordUp-cover-AFTEROkay, Marcia, I’m going to take you on your word about that!

So, I prepared to truly dig in to see if I could pick this book apart, and to find reasons why someone should read this book and have it in his or her library of writing resources.

Unlike most readers, I do have the advantage of knowing the author, so I found myself reading the book in her voice. Even if I hadn’t heard Marcia’s voice in my head, the casual, jovial tone and language she used throughout the book sounded very natural to me. Someone who has never met Marcia will enjoy this book very much as well, and would read it the same way I did. I enjoy her casual approach to this formal subject, and her sense of humor was infused into each chapter!

Marcia wrote in her chapter titled, “Mastering the Art of Knowing Your Audience”,

“…I find it satisfying to write for a reader whom I can imagine fully and accurately. Writing for someone I know–someone real or imagined, someone just like me in many ways or in few–is like making a gift for a friend. While I’m working on it, whatever it is, I confidently imagine the recipient opening it and saying, “Yes!”

I am happy to say that I had this “Yes!” response she described as I read this book. I write as if I’m talking to friends that share the same passions as I do, so to read that Marcia composes her words in the same way as I do was a revelation, and I was glad to see she made this recommendation.

Throughout the book, Marcia addresses common sticking points in writing as well as some that are not quite as obvious. One of the difficulties in reading any style guide is that the information can be rather dry since it is very factual. Dry and factual can be boring. Fortunately, Marcia doesn’t do this. With each chapter, she paints each new layer upon the last one, slowly building upon each topic so that the reader can see the big picture that writing is full of color and light. She uses everyday and personal examples which illuminate the point she’s making for a particular chapter much more apparent. In the process of reading this book, I ended up learning several tips that have helped me fine-tune my own writing.

Word Up! starts with a section that addresses common grammatical errors that just about everyone uses in one way or another.  Once those details are conquered, the second section of the book takes the basics up to an intermediate level, where further common grammatical errors, sentence structure, and paragraph building are addressed. The last section of the book ties everything together, teaching the reader how to be his or her own editor, and learning the fundamentals of technical writing, even for a creative writer. The last chapter itself shows Marcia dissecting one of her own essays apart using all the tools provided in the book. (Sorry for the spoilers!)

I’ll give you an example. How often, either in speech or writing, do you use the word, “just?” I have to admit, I do it ALL the time. It seems like a catch-all to emphasize the immediacy of an event’s occurrence. Marcia shows the reader how to avoid using the word as often as possible. Some other themes covered in the book include the proper use of metaphors, how to use contrast in a sentence, how to avoid the verb “to be” and most of its conjugations whenever possible, writing for one’s audience, and the importance of continually revising one’s content.  While these topics are just a sampling of what Marcia covers, there is so much more!

As you may or may not know, I teach a technical writing class on behalf of World Learning to students from various Microsoft offices in Asia. While I was reading Word Up!, I kept thinking that this would be a great book to recommend to my students. My students are often technical managers who are seeking some help to sharpen their business and technical writing.  World Learning has provided me with a great curriculum that I have found to be very thorough, and actually ran parallel to the information that Marcia provided in Word Up!. In fact, Word Up! provides more information in a compact volume than I do over the weeks that I teach the course.

I’m definitely going to add this book to the resources list that I provide at the end of the course. I know it will supplement the classwork effectively in a highly approachable manner that will be easy for my students to understand.  Having the reinforcement of the material in a relaxed, humorous, and informative way will help the students retain the information much better than remembering my lectures alone.

So, as you build your writing resources library to include copies of the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White‘s Elements of Style, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage, be sure to add this new book to the collection. I guarantee you will find it an incredibly accessible writing resource, and I suspect it is destined to be one of the classic style guides in years to come.

The book will be released on April 27, 2013, which is also National Tell A Story Day, and available through Amazon and other fine book retailers. Click on the title below to find out more information about how to order this fine tome.

Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)
ISBN: 978-0-9858203-0-5
Publisher: Northwest Brainstorms Publishing

**Disclaimer note: I did not receive any compensation for writing this review, and did my best to provide an unbiased review even though I know the author. **


Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who currently employed at Cox Automotive, Inc., and freelances as her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, BASF North America, Merck, and Deloitte, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog,, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. She is very active in the STC, as a former chapter president for the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter, and is currently serving on three STC Board committees. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog. All content is the owner's opinions, and does not reflect those of her employers past or present.

5 thoughts on “Word Up! ain’t just a Cameo song: A TechCommGeekMom book review

    1. I just use it too much. There are appropriate times to just use it, but just using it all the time is just redundant and it just doesn’t make a difference or just doesn’t create any additional emphasis. See what I mean? 😉 If the word “just” is left out more often, then the sentence become more concrete. Take out “just” from what I’ve written here. The sentences are stronger, aren’t they? It’s a small change that has a big impact.

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