Writers shouldn't write for writers - 5 ways to keep your writing user-centric
Writers are pretty clever creatures. They know how to craft phrases and twist words to make almost anything sound amazing. However, this is also one of their downfalls. One of the pitfalls of making your career as a professional writer is that you tend to rely on what sounds good to you - or your fellow writers. In that case, the needs of the user can sometimes be overlooked.
Here are 5 easy ways to keep your focus on writing for the user, while still staying true to your creative self.
Tip 1 - Get to know your user
Writing for users at its core, means you need to get to know the person you're writing for. Sure, every user is unique but they have defining characteristics and behaviors that can help you understand what they want to do, and how to guide them to success.
Start by getting as much data as you can about these users, both qualitative and quantitative. Speak to your business analyst, product marketing manager, product manager, or customer support expert - anyone who can give you real data and insight about the majority of users and how they've engaged with the product or brand in the past. Do they open and click through emails? How long have they been using the product? What are they trying to accomplish when they get your communication?
When you have that information, you can start thinking about how to meet the user's needs and guide them toward what they're trying to achieve.
Tip 2 - Know your product
When you know the product well, you can craft text that is meaningful to the user and helps them accomplish their goal.
It should go without saying that you need to be knowledgeable about the topic you're crafting copy for. Sadly, it doesn't. In my long career, I've seen a lot of writers cover the basics of what a product is about, but simply not dig deep enough. This makes the content they write sound very "surface level" and is a blocker to creating meaningful text.
So what do I mean about knowing the product? I always told writers in my teams that they needed to be the SME (subject matter expert) on whatever they were writing about. This means using the product, writing down terminology you see, and becoming familiar with how people speak about the product. This is also something a product manager and customer care expert can help you with since the former is the owner of building the product, while the former has a direct pipeline to how users are talking about the product.
When you know the product well, you can craft text that is meaningful to the user and helps them accomplish their goal. And that's a significant contribution you can make to the user having a positive experience.
Tip 3 - Create a content framework for what you want to say
One of the oddest things I see writers do is start writing a marketing email, landing page text, or blog article in a linear way - with no planning. While this does allow you to spin a good story, what you eventually end up with is something that sounds pretty but isn't very functional. Start anything you're doing with a content framework that plans out what parts of the story should go where. This gives you an eye-level view of the entire asset, so you can see what's missing, what shouldn't be there at all, and determine how users will engage with it.
Here's a diagram I often draw for myself when starting a landing page, for example:
You can create content frameworks in so many different ways, shapes, styles, and forms. It doesn't really matter how you choose to do it. But doing it is what helps you plan what should go where, and how you want to move the user through different parts of the story. And, once the asset goes live, also helps you identify what worked and what didn't.
Tip 4 - Options, options, options, options, options....
I literally cannot say this word enough times. My mentor and manager for the last several years drilled this into me and I'm so grateful she did. Create lots of different options for what you're writing. Not only will this help you grow your skills as a writer, but it also gives you - and every stakeholder in what you're creating - a variety of solutions to determine what will be more useful and meaningful to the user.
I know creating options is a lot of work. But there are ways to do it that are less time-consuming. For example, let's say I'm writing a subject line for a welcome email. I write an option that looks like this:
Welcome to XYZ. There's so much to do.
With a little crafting, I can turn that into 3 options, like this:
Welcome to XYZ. There's so much to do.
Welcome to XYZ - where you can do so much!
Welcome! Do so much more with XYZ.
And with a little more time and a little bit of crafty thinking, why not even:
You're an official XYZ customer. Here's what to do next.
Welcome new XYZer - here's what we recommend for you.
Yay! You're here - now let's get you started in your XYZ journey.
My point here: Push yourself. It's good for your writing. It's good for your users. It's good for the brand and product.
Tip 5 - Writing for users doesn't mean boring.
Writing for users means getting your message across but it doesn't mean you're boring. There are so many brands right now doing an excellent job at meaningful content that still makes users smile.
My golden rule is always to ask myself - is this sentence or phrase meaningful? If not, the chances are high that I just like how it sounds, but it doesn't help the user. Don't let meaningless, fluffy phrases take up your valuable content real estate. But make the meaningful phrases you do write entertaining, interesting and engaging. Here are 3 examples of brands that do it really well.
Melio (Partners Page) - I'm a little biased because I know the team who created it :)
Practice crafting your content for users. It is hard work but it will make you a better writer.