In June 2021, I launched PayFit’s tone of voice. 10 golden rules, 7 writing best practices, hundreds of Do’s & Don’ts. With a 60-pages document to deep dive into, mostly dedicated to Content managers – hence, marketers. At the time, a tone of voice for the Product was planned, but not yet a reality.

Some weeks after, I received Slack messages from PayFiters asking me for help to rewrite the text of a forthcoming product feature. I was pretty proud, but also confused: UX writing was new for me. But with Thomas Gadroy, Content Strategist at PayFit, we helped the Product team to rewrite all the onboarding experience for a new typology of clients. They quickly figured out that the number of tickets related to this feature was unusually low. Indeed, our rewriting contributed to make the experience crystal clear.

That’s how we demonstrated the impact of words on strategic business issues: reduce the number of tickets, increase NPS, and even get better online reviews.

It was the best moment to create UX writing guidelines and build the tone of voice for the PayFit product. Even if I was not an UX writer. As a Content Lead, I am part of the marketing team.

Here I’d like to share what we learned from this experience.

The 5 blockings you should overcome

  1. Beat the impostor syndrome: nobody was born a UX Writer. You will not become an expert in 1 month, but there are plenty of (free) ressources to self-train (see the bottom of this article).
  2. Think out of the (brand) box: people might think it is not your scope to do UX Writing. Explain to them that UX writing & tone of voice for Product are related. Introduce your work as a game-changer tool, not as a time-consuming constraint.
  3. Move from stranger to partner: shadow the teams in charge of microcopy (microcopy refers to copy you can find on website, app, product). Show them you are not in your “marketing/communication ivory tower”. Spend hours wandering in your product.
  4. Start with why: underline how strategic is the impact of UX Writing. Number of tickets, client satisfaction and online reviews are at stake.
  5. Don’t stop me now: guidelines are a first milestone, but it is not enough. Did you guess your next challenge? Convince the leadership team to hire a UX Writer! UX Writing should become part of your company's product culture.

A 3-step methodology to create & implement guidelines that really help

Step 1 - Observation & Analysis

Your mission: go out on the field & embark ambassadors

⚠️ Common mistake: building the UX writing guidelines alone, far from the product reality and without any sponsor. As a result, you will work for nothing, and adoption will be nil.
But don’t panic. It is pretty easy to avoid it. Here is how:

1. Get the support of the leadership team

At PayFit, Product Designers and Product Builders are in charge of microcopy. So, you can guess who were my key sponsors: the Head of Design & the Head of Product.

2. Identify your ambassadors

Ask for volunteer ambassadors, otherwise there is a high chance that it won’t work out. There are two ways to “hire” them: ask your sponsors (the Heads of), and contact those who already showed an interest in “tone of voice issues”.

💡Advice: be very transparent about what you expect from them, how much they will be involved, the time they need to commit. If you have quarterly OKRs, anticipate the timing so they can include this side-project.

Our dream team was composed of 3 Product Builders, 2 Product Designers, and 1 UX Researcher. Two internal Content managers were also supporting this work, as “consultants”: one with tech expertise and one with customer expertise.

Once you get your team, create a dedicated communication channel (on Slack or whatever your company uses) and launch a kick-off meeting.

Your mission is to turn your colleagues into contributors, and then into ambassadors.

3. Understand the state of play

Let’s be honest: you probably don’t have any clue how a Product Builder thinks. Nor how much current microcopy is inconsistent. If you would have known, you might have given up!

First, ask for a demo account of the Product in order to deep dive in its various screens. You will have some good surprises, but also probably some tricky discoveries.

💡Advice: take screenshots of all the issues you spot!

In parallel, put yourself in the Product experts shoes. Send a form to the Product teams. What is at stake? Understand their (love or hate) relationship with microcopy and identify their main needs. Our Typeform is accessible here, if you need some inspiration!
The answers allowed us to create the “Top 10 issues”: the 10 items that were most complex to write (welcome message, warning message, error message, title, button, field form, etc.).

⚠️ Success condition: participation rate should reach 70%. Don’t forget the fact that the Product team probably doesn't know who you are. Your sponsors will make the difference. They should share the form during their rituals (Slack channel, team meeting).

💡 Advice: create 1 form per team, with the same questions to spot potential discrepancies between the different teams dealing with microcopy. If you use Typeform, their reports will make this task easy.

4. Organise workshops

It’s time to organise your workshops! Here is what we did:

Workshop 1: framework validation

  • we validated the table of content for the final document
    - we validated the Top 10 issues
  • we validated 80% of the product screens

Workshop 2:

  • we validated the last product screens
  • we tackled the “Glossary issue”

Glossary issue… The new guest of the story! This shared spreadsheet (Google Sheet is great for that) will help everyone use the same words to speak about the same concept.

⚠️ Success condition: Product screens… Do not miss this part! Ask your ambassadors to take screenshots of all the worst screens they have in mind. Let’s have a look at this "wall of shame". And keep calm!

💡 Advice: 1 week before the workshop, share your draft to the team and ask them to help prepare the event. On D-Day, you will go straight to the point!

Step 2 - Creation & validation

Mission: build actionable guidelines based on existing issues

Once the first step is completed, it is your turn! Here is how we structured my document.

The golden rules to follow: this part provides details about the key rules. Don’t forget to use many images for Do’s & Don'ts.

The focus on the Top 10 issues: this part provides, for each issue, guidelines and “Before/After screenshots”.

💡 Advice: 4 questions you could answer for each issue:
- How to make this message a success?
- What question should you ask yourself?
- What is the structure of the message?
- What is the tone of the message?

⚠️ Success condition: ask your ambassadors to do real simulations. You should integrate your new copy in the product.

The checklist (synthesis): this one-pager sums up the main guidelines. We created a checklist on Notion to make this document more actionable.

Ask your consultants, ambassadors and sponsors to validate your document. You will probably have to make compromises at this stage.

💡Advice: Strive to make a delightful document. Our designers created a PDF, but you can also do it alone via a tool like Notion.

Three golden rules of a UX Writing document:
- Be accessible & concise
- Be concrete, use many examples based on existing product screens
- Be actionable, sum up your document with a one-pager checklist

Step 3 - Launch & Implementation

Mission: spread the news and train people

Implementing UX Writing guidelines implies change management and project organisation. Here is what we did at PayFit:

Communication on a regular basis

  • Teasing: short introduction during the Product team meeting.
  • Reveal: juste after the meeting, share on Slack the tone of voice and the invitation for an e-coffee. Ask people to read the document and ask their questions on a Q&A tool (we use Slido).
  • Deep dive: E-coffee explaining the golden rules. Don’t forget to record it!

⚠️ Common mistake: building a short-term communication plan. This will be useless. Create reminders in the long run. After 3 or 6 months, send a form to the Product team. It is important to understand if they are all aware of the guidelines, if it helps them enough, etc. Our Typeform is accessible here!

Training with workshops

Communication without training is nonsense, as you all know. Some ideas you can implement:

  • Create online training with really short videos (we used Loom but you can use Slack video or 360 Learning for instance).
  • Create writing workshops with the Product team.
  • Remain available for rewriting if needed.

⚠️ Success condition: Ask your ambassadors to record those videos. Don’t be upset, but they will have more impact than you!

💡Advice: To go further, we consider creating a certification on 360Learning. Your team can test its knowledge on quizzes that deliver certification. If they succeed, they reach the next level. At the highest level, they get the “UX Writing Master” certification and become internal mentors.

Excited to launch this project? You are now ready to implement UX Writing guidelines! I am sure you will love it!
UX Writing will make you a better Content manager. I personally often refer to my notes when it comes to writing a CTA, an email object, a title.

Wanna have a talk about this article? Feel free to reach me on Linkedin!

How to get started in UX Writing?

I am glad to share with you my favourite ressources!

Three best practices to keep in mind

These are the three things I would like you to retain from this article:

  • Test: ask the Product team to write the microcopy of a new feature to show them all you can bring. You can also rewrite the copy of existing screens.
  • Select: as long as you don’t have a UX Writer, choose some priorities. You can’t tackle each topic of microcopy.
  • Collaborate: don’t create the guidelines alone. Embark some product experts and the leadership team.

Photo by Daniel Fazio on Unsplash