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Writing high performing copy

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

Patrick Thompson
May 23, 2017 · 5 min read

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

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

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

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

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

Continued reading

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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Tales from the Atlassian experience design team