Five Questions with Christine Cawthorne

Christine Cawthorne @crocstar

Talk: How designers and developers can work with content

Christine is an online copywriter with a background in journalism at the BBC. Having worked as a homepage editor for Yahoo, AOL and BT, she has translated this experience into writing content and managing social media accounts for brands including Pizza Hut, Paul Smith, Nokia, Boots and many smaller companies.

Christine is currently working on the GOV.UK project, training people in government departments and agencies about user needs and how to write for the web. She combines her passion for stories with a keen interest in how people actually use and consume content on the web.

Christine also teaches students at the University of Sheffield and the University of Derby, helping educate the storytellers of tomorrow.

Why did you agree to speak at WXG?

My mission is to help people understand what great content is so they can create or commission it. I think the WXG audience cares about this too so it was easy to say yes.

What do you think attendees will get out of your talk?

An insight into what users want from the copy and content on a website. By this I mean both end users and the people who own that information.

Also, copywriters are an integral part of this industry. As well as working out what to say and how to structure it, we’re into user research, UX and client communication. We’re also incredibly generous, funny people who love going to the pub and I want you to know that. *cough*

How did you get into your field?

I’ve always been a writer — from scribbling my first story in the shed when I was five years old to studying journalism at university. On the course we were taught to write in a way that was clear and quick to understand and I loved the idea of transmitting information as quickly as you could using words.

I like to make things easy to understand. During my internship at Yahoo! back in 2004 I had a fantastic boss who taught me to look at the stats to help improve my writing. It was A/B testing done over several days because we didn’t have live analytics. Finding out how many people actually clicked on my copy was almost addictive, I couldn’t imagine not doing it.

A few years as an online BBC journalism taught me about responsibility and quality in my writing. Tone of voice and balancing the needs of the users and the organisation is an ongoing lesson.

I wanted more commercial experience in writing so I set up Crocstar, we write content for websites, manage social accounts for brands and train people how to do both of those things. I started doing a bit of teaching at university, showing journalism students how to adapt their writing for the web. I moved into training people in companies how to manage their website content and social accounts and most recently I taught around 1,500 content producers across government how to write for GOV.UK. That’s something I’m incredibly proud of as it has a tangible impact on people’s lives.

Who is your inspiration in the industry?

My aforementioned boss from Yahoo, Clare Hudson, who’s now the Executive Editor for the BBC Homepage. Clare taught me to listen to users and not to be afraid to change copy. If it’s not right then you can change it.

Kristina Halvorsen for explaining how content strategy works and helping organisations around the world do it successfully and sharing incredible insights in her book Content Strategy for the Web.

I’m always impressed by great UX designers and in particular Jon Kohrs, my US colleague, who does brilliant work in simplifying complex processes like calculating tax or linking the services that non-profits provide so they can be more efficient.

What advice would you give to someone new to the industry?

Practice your skills. Get into the habit of writing, editing and editing again. Read your work out loud. Listen to feedback and don’t get upset by it. Install analytics on your blog and learn what the results mean. Work with designers and developers.

A writer is a communicator and a collaborator — there’s no room for ego. Well, maybe a little bit.

Christine Cawthorne will be speaking at WXG on Friday 25th September.

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