7 Steps to Great Company [Writing] Culture

We write all the time. Why does writing suck so much?

Crappy writing leads to misunderstood ideas, unresolved conflicts, and dysfunctional mission statements. This happens because writing is severely undervalued, and frequently outsourced. Companies need to invest in creating strong writing cultures. With thoughtful writing, you infuse critical thinking, crisp communication, and smart decision-making principles into every part of your business.

At Evernote, we’ve always elevated writing, and have grown the team accordingly. Few are born doing it right, but any company can create an amazing writing environment that positively impacts everything they do. Here’s how.

Be intentional

First, figure out why you care about writing. For Evernote, it’s all about clarity. Good writing helps ensure that everything we do, from internal emails to design specs to user stories, has a clear sense of purpose. It all started with an external focus on brand writing covering everything from product minutiae to visions of the future. These days, the impact of our writing team can be felt everywhere.

Build a playground

Long-form writing is the best way to discover and develop your voice. Whether on your blog, Medium, or Facebook, the extra room makes it easier to establish a method and style. It’s also more functional. A tiny team can quickly repurpose a long piece to fit into an email or tweet. Going the other way is rough. Importantly, press releases (besides being generally terrible) are far too rigid for this exploration. We pretty much did away with them.

Find your voice

Play around and don’t sweat getting it wrong at first. Once you’ve found your voice, lock it down in a style guide. This can be fairly simple: a statement about why writing matters to you, something about the emotions you wish to evoke in readers, a few stylistic choices, and some good/bad example sentences. Finally, circulate the guide around the company to align everyone around a common tone.

Create cadence

Commit to writing at least three long posts a week and a tweet a day. At first, you’ll have plenty to say. A couple of months in, you’ll start struggling. That’s when you’ll make your biggest creative leaps. Write about your product, your users, the team, industry trends, successes and failures. Stick to your guns and your self-imposed deadlines; those constraints will make you stronger.

Hire talented writers

Avoid the mistake of hiring a team too soon. Decide on what you hope to achieve, then post the jobs. It’s much easier to set the right expectations during the hiring process than it will be to adjust writing styles later. The former creates camaraderie, the latter fosters resentment.

Critique often

My favorite meetings are our twice weekly Show the Words sessions. Writers from marketing, product, sales, and customer support present their drafts and directions to get honest, constructive feedback. We’ve become a crazy good team ever since becoming aligned through these meetings. It’s been transformative.

Apply your voice to everything

Now for the real fun. Rewrite your internal communications: staff emails, employee on-boarding, even HR documentation. You’re going to turn boring, yet super important, content into something compelling. These are some of the most profoundly valuable projects to take on. Realize that you’re doing a service for your current and future teammates who would otherwise avoid reading these things altogether.

Great writing culture is a joy. Companies that have it know themselves well enough to confidently communicate with employees and customers. This doesn’t just happen. It takes time and commitment to really work that muscle. In the end, you’ll create a rewarding environment that actually takes words seriously.