Recent Growth Design Offsite

Writing high performing copy

The story of how a designer learned to get over his fear of writing

Patrick Thompson
Designing Atlassian
5 min readMay 23, 2017


Writing copy is hard. Really hard. Atlassian prides itself on strong writing and we have a team of writers and information experience designers who do a kick-ass job of it. In their words:

With a familiar tone, clear language, and a solid knowledge of our audience, we craft messages that get teams moving in the right direction, then we get out of their way.

However, as a designer you might not always have access to a writer. Sometimes you’ll need to put your best foot forward in drafting the copy yourself. Before joining Atlassian, I would often leave copywriting to the end of my design process. I was comfortable telling stories using pixels, not words, so this was new territory for me, and it was scary. I knew I had to step up my game as a writer, and these are the lessons I learned on that journey.

Start with the story

Before you draw any sketches, start with the story. This will help you think about how you want to present the information to your user. When we build experiences at Atlassian, we start with the story we want to tell and work backwards. By writing the content in the form of a story, you can see gaps in your understanding. It’s worth presenting this story to your stakeholders to establish a shared understanding of the problem to be solved. The best way I have found to present this story is in the form of a journey map.

When designing for a product team, another helpful exercise is to draft a fictional press release for the new feature or update you’re working on. You can socialize this with customers to see if the story resonates and gather feedback before starting on design.

Once you’re happy with the story, then it’s time to sketch out some solutions. But how do you increase your confidence once you have multiple solutions?

Early signal testing

We use early signal testing to get feedback as early in the design process as possible. This gives some signal in the noise on what solution might perform better. For example, we use early signal testing to measure the comprehension between different copy variations. Below, we asked the user a series of follow-up questions to gauge their level of comprehension. The user would see a single variation and then be asked, “Based on what you have seen, which of the following is true?”

Credit to Benjamin Berger

We can see which variation performs the best for comprehension providing us another data point to move our designs forward. A positive indication ensures that the story we’re telling is coming through to our users. At this point we can either implement the change or continue to iterate.

Good copy is measurable

Another way to get measurable data is through experimentation. We experiment heavily with copy changes on the Growth team at Atlassian. We know that simple copy changes can have a huge impact on the experience. For example, changing the messaging in our invite welcome email resulted in a 3.27% increase in the log-in rate of invited users. This was a conceptual change that included new psychological triggers as well as copy.

This change might not seem like a huge win, but projected over a 12-month period it is expected to increase monthly active users by quite a lot. Being able to quantify the value of your copy changes through experimentation is awesome!

Writing checklist

Here are some of the things we’ve had success with at Atlassian.

Guidelines for voice and tone. At Atlassian we use the following guidelines to help inform our voice and tone: be bold, be optimistic, and be practical, with a wink. This helps us avoid sounding like robots and introduces a consistent writing style to our content.

Be brief. Write less, say more. Act as if words are precious and you value not wasting them.

Support with data. Establish credibility and trust with your audience by providing them with data to make better decisions.

Be direct and action oriented. Your calls to action should be clear and direct, use the WYLTIWLT framework to evaluate the copy for your actions.

Show users the value. An image is worth a thousand words. For conveying complex concepts images are immensely helpful, but try not to overuse.

Use plain language, avoid jargon. Write for all levels of readers and avoid adding internal jargon to your content.

Personalize your message. Tailor your message to your audience, include their name and other demographic information if available.

Helpful tips

  1. Grammarly. It’s not a silver bullet, but it has improved my writing.
  2. Spar your writing. Just like your designs, two sets of eyes are better than one.
  3. Say it out loud. Things your eyes might not see your ears might catch.
  4. Walk away for a bit, then come back. Coming back with a fresh perspective helps you see things you might have overlooked.
  5. Trust your gut and intuition. Just like with pixels, not all decisions can be made by analyzing data.

Continued reading

If learning to write well is something that interests you I highly recommend the following two books:

Regardless of your role, writing is a very beneficial skill that takes time to develop. Eventually, with enough practice, it’ll improve. Keep writing!

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