Book Summary: 14 Takeaways From Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes - Fluxe Digital Marketing

Book Summary: 14 Takeaways From Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes

By Joel Widmer | Tools & Resources

Apr 14
everybody writes ann handley

Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes is a favorite among the Fluxe team. We consider it essential reading and give it to all new team members. Handley’s writing manual covers the essentials for creating compelling copy and marketing material that connects with your audience.

Whether you’re in a climate of crisis or an economic boom, clean copy always creates better results. Here are a few of our favorite nuggets from the book that’ll help you improve your communication no matter what you’re writing.  

1. Brevity & Clarity Matter More Than Ever

Handley points out that we’ve become “a planet of publishers.” That’s a gift for your business but also for your competitors. Brief, clear copy seizes the opportunity to share your messaging, despite all the voices shouting for attention.


❌ It’s never been more important to create copy that’s both brief and clear.

✅Brevity and clarity matter more than ever.

2. Make it All About Your Reader

Make your writing all about your reader by adding utility, inspiration and empathy. Handley says that: “If the value of any one of these things (utility, inspiration, or empathy) is zero, then the sum of your content is a big fat zero, too.”


❌It’s good to break up your body copy with a few images.

✅ A survey by Fluxe Digital Marketing found that 94% of B2B blog readers appreciate images because they break up the copy and make information more digestible.

3. Most Important Words Start the Sentence

Clogging up the start of your sentences with qualifiers isn’t helpful. Your readers are more engaged when you put the most important words at the start of the sentence. Common examples to avoid:

  • According to… 
  • There is a… 
  • It is [important, critical, advised, suggested, and so on]…
  • In my opinion… 
  • The purpose of this [email, post, article] is… 
  • In 2014 [or any year]…
  • I think [believe] that…
  • Don't forget…
  • Never…
  • Avoid…
  • Don't…
  • Remember to…

4. Frame Your Reader in the Picture 

Ask yourself how you can make your content a gift to your reader. That means you, as the writer, are in service to your audience. Handley offers six questions to keep in mind as you write. 

  • What's in it for them?
  • Why should they care?
  • What's the clear lesson or message you want them to take away?
  • What value do you offer them?
  • What questions might they have?
  •  What advice or help can you provide?


❌ It’s important to frame your reader.

✅ When you frame your reader, your audience can see how your content is relevant to them and how it can impact their lives for the better.

5. Produce “The Ugly First Draft”

Handley recommends starting content creation with a super rough draft that she calls The Ugly First Draft (TUFD). 

Just get words on the page or “write if no one will ever read it” knowing that you can “slap those words around a little” when it's finished. The idea of TUFD is to break through that terror-inducing blank white page, so don’t worry about:

  • Grammar
  • Complete sentences
  • Readability
  • Spelling
  • Word choice

6. The More the Think, the Easier the Ink

If you’re struggling with a sentence, it’s probably because you haven’t thought about it enough. Handley says: “the more you think about what you want to say... the easier it is to say.” After taking time to consider the key points, it's easier to convey ideas and their supporting arguments.

7. Make Every Paragraph Earn its Keep

Create sentences that develop your point without jumping around from one aspect to another. Each sentence should add something unique to its paragraph. Build on your idea with each line and, when you’ve made your point, call it a paragraph.

8. Show, Don’t Tell

Great content “shows how your product or service lives in the world” and it does this by bringing copy to life with details. Instead of a deadpan statement, use descriptive language to paint a picture in your reader’s mind.


❌ We generate more leads with content.

✅Thoughtful content delights your audience so they hit the subscribe button to hear more of what you’ve got to say.

9. Make it Simple, Not Simplistic

“No one will ever complain that you've made things too simple to understand,” says Handley. In a marketing context, this means making your content simple for the customer to understand. 

Use graphs, diagrams, and even whitespace wherever they may help your reader understand the message your content conveys.

10. Use Analogies

Analogies help the reader understand something unfamiliar by using familiar terms. They’re a great tool to help explain more complex ideas, and their descriptive nature makes use of the Show, Don’t Tell principle above. Handley recommends using “familiar yet surprising” analogies. One example from the book is:


❌ 30 million people were affected.

✅ 30 million people were affected. That’s almost 10% of the US population, or just over the population of Texas.

11. Approach Writing Like Teaching

Good content strives to help the reader make sense of the world. If you understand the subject a little better than your reader, work to help them up to your level. This is true even when writing content that isn’t instructional. Use supporting evidence where possible and share why things are the way they are.

12. Readability

Longer words, sentences and paragraphs force the brain to postpone comprehending ideas until the words come together to make sense. This is bad for readability.

Everybody Writes offers some basic guidelines:

  • Short paragraphs (three to six sentences and just one is fine)
  • Short sentences (25 words in a sentence max)
  • Straightforward words (“use” instead of “utilize”)
  • Avoid clichés, jargon, and buzzwords 

13. Use Real Words

Avoid the kinds of words you’ve heard too often in throwaway press releases. They’re okay to use occasionally and in the correct context, but don’t overuse them. Examples include:

  • Revolutionary
  • Value-added
  • Impactful
  • Cutting-edge
  • Best-of-breed
  • Incentivize
  • Synergize
  • Paradigm

14. Passive vs. Active

Many find the passive vs. active voice principle tricky. It’s easy to underestimate the negative impact passive voice has on your content.

Handley explains the difference between passive and active voice in simple terms. “Passive means that something is being done to something, instead of that something doing the action on its own.” Here’s an example from the book:


❌ The video was edited by a guy named Hibachi.

✅A guy named Hibachi edited the video.

Let us Know Your Writing Tips

If you’ve got writing tips from your favorite marketing or writing books, or if you’ve read this book and think I’ve missed out on a good one, let me know in the comments.


About the Author

Joel Widmer is the Founder & CEO of Fluxe Digital Marketing—a content marketing shop that helps smart businesses create, produce and promote their content through a unique one-on-one interview process. When he’s not working, Joel can be found trying new restaurants with his wife, son, and daughter.

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: