Making the Most of UX Writing Critiques
How one Microsoft team changed the rules of critiques to meet the challenges of their work
In my last article, I talked about how our team adapted the design critique process for writing. The philosophy behind design critiques made sense to us, but there were some tactical things we needed to figure out to make this process work for writers. Many of the practices we came up with could be applied to any kind of critique.
Here are the top eight best practices our team developed for adapting design critiques for writing.
1. Make critiques a standing meeting
When we first started holding writing critiques, we wanted the discussion in the meeting to be organic and meaningful, but other aspects of the process needed to be more predictable for our writers to use the meeting as a resource. Holding the meeting at the same time every week helps writers plan for feedback. Not everyone can attend every week, but having predictable meetings helps writers build critiques into their schedules.
2. Call for agenda items before every critique
Our lead UX writer sends an email at the beginning of the week to ask for agenda items for that week’s critique. This nudges writers to think about what they might share that week and ensures everyone has a chance to put something on the agenda. By going in to the meeting with a plan, we can better decide how much time to spend on each text.
3. Do the leg work before critique
We try to avoid using critiques to solve technical or UX design problems. Those conversations should really happen before the meeting so writers can have a productive conversation in the room.
4. Set the context for the copy
Not everyone in the room will have expertise in the product, audience, or scenario related to a text, so we ask writers who share their work in the critique to provide some context. Because we’re writing for humans, we start by explaining the human scenario. Who will see this content? What problem are they trying to solve? What is their workflow? This context helps other writers understand the customer’s perspective, what they may be feeling, what might be confusing for them, and any other relevant information we can use to create copy that helps.
5. Avoid writing by committee
When we get a group of writers in a room, they often do what they’re good at: they start writing together. While it’s helpful to get ideas and brainstorm possible language to use, we try to avoid spending too much time writing by committee in the meetings. Giving feedback, taking feedback, and walking away with a plan of action is far more important than getting a perfect string in the meeting.
6. Leave your knowledge at the door
One of the goals of our writing critiques is to embody the customer perspective for other writers. If we really want to do that, we need to forget the product and company knowledge we have — at least while we’re in the meeting! It can be challenging to do this, but we need to be careful not to make assumptions about what our customers know and don’t know and provide alternative perspectives in the room. We can only do that effectively when we look at a product experience with fresh eyes.
7. Embrace feedback
When we’re stitching together complex workflows with words, it’s unlikely that any writer will get the words right on the first try every time. Every writer who attends the critique needs to come to the table with an open mind, a willingness to be wrong, and prepared to learn from feedback.
8. Kindness always wins
Even when we completely disagree, we are always respectful and supportive in the room. The writing critique process works best when the people in the room can trust one another and be vulnerable showing their own work.
Do you have other best practices for writing critiques? We’d love to hear them!