You get to watch your ideas come to life in flowing and vibrant prose. But you also get the constant, nagging sense that your Slack grammar is being judged. (Your Slack grammar is awesome, we promise.)
I’m one of many writers on the Dropbox Design team, and we tackle everything from error messages to mission statements. Because the process of working with a writer can feel mysterious, I’ve put together 10 tips for non-writers on collaborating with your friendly neighborhood word nerd.
1. Let writers solve (all) your problems
If you’re just asking your writer to polish a headline, you’re missing the best parts of having a writer around. Writers are gifted at distilling vision, clarifying concepts, and finding surprising ways to make ideas shine. They’re also great at doling out relationship advice and recommending hilarious podcasts you might have missed.
2. Embrace the rewrite
Writers need your feedback to make something perfect, so don’t panic if their initial pass misses the mark. Think of the first draft as a newborn baby. Can a baby drive a car? Absolutely. But should it drive a car? That’s a good question. We’ll loop in legal and include their thoughts in the next draft.
3. Give it time
Speaking of the next draft, build in more time than you think you’ll need for revisions. The shorter something is, the longer it usually takes to get right.
4. Get specific
Grounding your feedback in project goals, messaging frameworks, or user research will help your writer turn around a strong second draft quickly. You have a ton of context that’s priceless for a writer — don’t be shy about sharing it! A couple feedback make-overs:
- Before: “I’m not really feeling this direction”
- After: “Since we’re trying to reach folks whose two biggest priorities are data security and cats, it’d be good to make both more prominent on the landing page.”
- Before: “This feels like fluff”
- After: “We really want readers to come away with some actionable advice in this part of the blog post, and the tips are getting a little lost in jokes about data security and cats.”
5. Don’t rewrite it yourself
I know this feels like it will save everyone time, but the writer will invariably rewrite your rewrite of their rewrite which will open a wormhole in the space-time continuum and jeopardize the lives of everyone on the planet.
6. Share feedback in person or leave notes in the doc
Face-to-face feedback is best because your writer can ask follow-up questions. For straightforward takes, in-doc comments are great. Email isn’t ideal because it can be hard for the writer to connect your notes to specific sentences or sections. Greeting cards (especially ones that play music) are strongly discouraged.
7. Be the chef
The more cooks you have in a writing kitchen, the blander the meal becomes. If you ask other people to review something your wordsmith whipped up, consolidate their feedback with yours instead of letting them weigh in directly with the writer. If your team has different takes on whether a dish is delicious or terrible, the chef makes the call. (Hint: It’s delicious.)
8. Point out the things you like
This will make the writer feel like a million bucks. More importantly, it guarantees they won’t accidentally delete something brilliant.
9. Be prepared for trade-offs
Writers want everything they create to be wildly engaging, supremely memorable, and win several Nobel Prizes. They also need their work to be on-brand and follow voice and grammar guidelines. On their quest to have it all, they might shy away from using certain words you like, write things in way you weren’t expecting, or leave out information that feels important. If something is amiss, ask! The only thing writers love more than making you look good is talking about the constraints they overcame to get there.
10. Have fun
Life is short and your writer is ready. Go forth and make wordy magic together!