Writing well, often


I very much believe in the power of good writing. As such I admire the good work of companies like Mailchimp and Slack to promote good writing that is more approachable. Hence I was delighted when Anna Pickard started publishing some of Slack’s content style guide and writing principles. They follow Mailchimp’s great work, who published their voice and tone style guide already last year.

At work me and my team started writing a monthly newsletter. It started out as a mailing just for the broader team to help us understand what everybody else is working on. However, people enjoyed reading it and started sharing. Now we have a group of family and friends throughout the organisation that loves reading this newsletter every month. Although it might seem insignificant, it is one of the highlights of my job. It is a chance to connect with people, find out what they are working on and spread the good news. The newsletter is very different from other corporate emails, as we aim to write it in very accessible language (thank you Mailchimp and Slack for setting such good examples). We spend a good amount of time to get it right, and people appreciate it.

When I saw Anna speak earlier this year at Webstock, it clicked with me, why it was so hard and how we can make our job easier: Each month we were trying to figure out how to write a good newsletter from scratch, based on our experience. And even worse, we all did it individually. As a result, writing the newsletter took a lot of time and effort to make it sound right with good content and a consistent voice. We needed to reflect on what people love about the newsletter, why they read it despite their own email overload and write it down. This helps February-Michael be as good as January-Michael, and James write with the same passion as Elizabeth and vice versa.

Below are the guidelines we came up with. In fact, the whole thing became a manifesto that was fun and empowering to write in itself. It borrows heavily on Anna’s talk and if we’ve done a good job, hopefully somebody will borrow heavily from us. Maybe it provides inspiration for somebody to start sharing more of their own story through a blog or a newsletter. Believe me, it is fun and better things will happen the more open you are.

Newsletter Manifesto

We help our readers understand why our team is here, what we do and how we are working. We aim to fuel curiosity, build trust and increase engagement. We serve two main groups:

  1. Members of our team: They work globally distributed on a broad range of topics. We want them to feel both informed and heard, wherever they are.
  2. Friends of our team: They often know only specific aspects of our work, but are curious to find out more. We are excited to show them the rest of us as well and keep them informed about our progress.

We know that to make our team a success, we need to be inclusive – very inclusive. We make it easy and enticing to join our journey. This means: Our voice is human. It’s familiar, friendly, and straightforward. We explain how things work and why they are important. We don’t cut corners, we cut fluff. We translate complex subjects and rationales by translating them into practical examples. We value the time and attention that people invest in us. We get to the point. We don’t copy & paste press releases as they serve broader audiences. We know our audience. We educate people without patronizing or confusing them. Our voice is: Fun but not silly. Confident but not cocky. Smart but not stodgy. Helpful but not overbearing. Expert but not bossy. Sometimes weird but never inappropriate. Our tone is informal, but not sloppy. We are fun to read because we are easy to understand and have interesting topics. We avoid jargon, slang and abbreviations as they are likely to ostracize or confuse our audience. We emojize, but not everything needs an emoji. We are literate and use full sentences. We spell words and capitalize correctly. We read, re-read and re-re-read one final time before we hit send just to make sure that no typos have crept in. We never resort to text speak and we don’t LOL. We don’t try to be cool, but understand that being uncooly cool is so much more inclusive than being totally on fleek. We are ourselves. That is, we are human. We are a strong team full of good people who are brilliant at what they do. We put them into the center of our communication. We value our talent and what they do for our team. We show them in photos that are real and relatable. Our newsletter celebrates them every month. Our people are the secret sauce that makes our content more engaging and relatable. We have a sense of humor. We are funny when it’s appropriate and when it comes naturally. But we don’t go out of our way to make a joke – forced humor can be worse than none at all. If unsure, we keep a straight face. We are unapologetically kind and refrain from snarky comments. We apply the sunshine test to everything that we do – if the newsletter ends up in unintended hands, we are happy for the additional audience, not embarrassed.  We are proud of our culture and want to share it. We communicate to amplify the good reputation that we enjoy inside and outside of our company. Every single one of us is the team.

Photo credit: Poster Boy NYC via Source / CC BY

The Author

Raging introvert, estimated to be 120% German. Passionate about photography. If Sheldon knocked on my door three times, I'd let him in.