Writing well, often

I very much believe in the power of good writing. As such I admire the good work of companies like Mailchimp and Slack to promote good writing that is more approachable. Hence I was delighted when Anna Pickard started publishing some of Slack’s content style guide and writing principles. They follow Mailchimp’s great work, who published their voice and tone style guide already last year.

At work me and my team started writing a monthly newsletter. It started out as a mailing just for the broader team to help us understand what everybody else is working on. However, people enjoyed reading it and started sharing. Now we have a group of family and friends throughout the organisation that loves reading this newsletter every month. Although it might seem insignificant, it is one of the highlights of my job. It is a chance to connect with people, find out what they are working on and spread the good news. The newsletter is very different from other corporate emails, as we aim to write it in very accessible language (thank you Mailchimp and Slack for setting such good examples). We spend a good amount of time to get it right, and people appreciate it.

When I saw Anna speak earlier this year at Webstock, it clicked with me, why it was so hard and how we can make our job easier: Each month we were trying to figure out how to write a good newsletter from scratch, based on our experience. And even worse, we all did it individually. As a result, writing the newsletter took a lot of time and effort to make it sound right with good content and a consistent voice. We needed to reflect on what people love about the newsletter, why they read it despite their own email overload and write it down. This helps February-Michael be as good as January-Michael, and James write with the same passion as Elizabeth and vice versa.

Continue reading “Writing well, often”

Writing good copy

I write a monthly newsletter at work. Our team is distributed across three continents and too many timezones. From time to time things slip through the cracks and you hear the inevitable “I wish I had known that earlier”.  The newsletter tries to close the space between the cracks and helps people know what’s going on. It is also a welcome place to highlight the great work that people contribute to the team.

I very much enjoy writing it. It’s a highlight of my month, because I can channel the best person I want to be: fun, enthusiastic, empathetic, helpful, … My objective is to write in the tone that I would like to have a good conversation in. As a German, I’m a non-native speaker in Australia and tend to overthink and over-structure my sentences when I speak. I choose words deliberately and it’s common to hear me talk in numbered lists. The newsletter is an opportunity for me to freshen it up. And it works: people enjoy reading the newsletter, they forward it – even our CEO reads it. Not bad for a 30 people team in a company of 40,000.

My big secret is that I copy the newsletter. Not the content, that would be obscure. But I try to channel my inner Slack. They have such a wonderful tone all their copy, be it tweets, quirky messages when you open their app or even release notes for software updates. Anna Pickard is Editorial Director at Slack helped create that tone:

It is sometimes funny, sometimes serious, sometimes just plain and informative, but throughout, it should feel like nothing more than a person, talking to another person. Human to human […] making sure we’re treating people with respect, empathy and courtesy all the way through. […]We want people to like using Slack, and to want to share the experience. 

Slack’s Editorial Soul: Anna Pickard
on Writing the Brand Experience

And the best thing: they got their inspiration from Mailchimp, who have been kind enough to publish a Style Guide for Content. I’ve only dipped my toe into it for now, but it looks like a wonderfully written guide on how to write well, especially the section on Voice and Tone. Mailchimp rules and I love them for doing this.

Once you manage to have good topics and write them up well, you have a winning formula to make a lot of people’s lives easier and happier.

Photo credit: Martin uit Utrecht / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA