Why This Engineer Writes Better Copy Than You
Programmers are among the smartest people I know. They tend to be logical and thorough. Many are fluent in multiple languages. “Plain English” isn’t usually one of them, though — unless you’re Brady Archambo, lead iOS and OSX engineer at Slack. Slack is team communication software that combines instant messaging, group chat, email and file […]
Programmers are among the smartest people I know. They tend to be logical and thorough. Many are fluent in multiple languages.
“Plain English” isn’t usually one of them, though — unless you’re Brady Archambo, lead iOS and OSX engineer at Slack.
Slack is team communication software that combines instant messaging, group chat, email and file sharing. It keeps everyone in my company in the loop, in real time — and usually in gulps of laughter. In fact, a major reason that we love Slack is its personality.
That personality is so engaging that I started to look forward to reading the update copy on my iPhone. Compare it to the typical app status update, and you can understand why.
I assumed that a marketing copywriting team was behind Slack’s updates. After all, a software program’s personality — part of its brand identity — comes from every word used inside and around it. MailChimp, popular email marketing software for SMBs, even created a Voice & Tone website and internal style guide for its marketing writers.
I was wrong.
At Slack, it’s Brady, an engineer, who writes all of the iOS and OSX update copy.
How does he do it? What can marketing copywriters learn from his style? I found out during a Q&A email exchange with him recently.
1. He Has A Real Person In Mind
Do you have a tone guide, or is your company’s tone that of whomever is doing the writing?
We don’t have a tone guide, yet we’re not tone deaf. If we tried to put the tone we strive for into words, we might say that it tries to be fun, optimistic and friendly — like someone you could invite to a party and chat with. So: interesting, honest, helpful, without dickishness.
2. He’s Selective About Big Choices
How do you decide what information to include in your iOS app update notices?
We try to include all the information that’s relevant and helpful. Some things are not so relevant to most people and not helpful. We try to omit those.
Could you share an example?
3. He Uses Humor Appropriately
How do you decide how much detail to include, particularly for bug fixes? For example, there was this: “Fixed: some bot messages could cause wildly incorrect unread times.” Wildly is specific, and not really necessary. Funny, though.
It’s 100% true, so we included it. Also, it’s most likely the polite way of saying what we were saying internally and what some of our users may have been saying as well.
On the other hand, “Image previews now use a black background, fixing a lot of weirdness” is more vague. Also funny.
Sometimes there’s just a lot of weirdness or complicated stuff happening that 99% of people would get no benefit from us including.
“Support for custom footers in message attachments. Don’t worry about that exactly.” Was I supposed to be worried? Just not specifically worried? Am I supposed to ignore this update? What does it mean!?
Sometimes we include very specific pieces of information for a small number of people. That’s an example. It’s too bad we can’t just send that bit of information to just those people, but we can’t, so we have to include it to everyone.
4. He’s Thorough Internally And Externally
Is there anything about your process that’s important to note? Like… do you only write your update notices 3 minutes before they go out? Or do you keep a running list so it’s easy to do later?
I write release notes for our TestFlight (beta) versions. These go out to people in the company who are very interested in every new feature / fix, but don’t have a good easy way to keep up to date with changes as they are made. Since there are often multiple TestFlight releases per App Store release, these notes get combined, then before a release I comb through our GitHub commit log once to see if I missed anything.
Does anyone give a second look to what you write, i.e., do you have an editor?
Dog is my co-pilot.
5. He Reads Other Great Writing
Are there other apps that do a great job with copy for updates?
What do other apps leave out of update notices that you wish they would include?
It’s often disappointing when a good app is updated, but the update text is plainly “Bug fixes.” You had my attention, but wasted it! It might be nice to know what those fixes were.