Jan
20
2017

Create effective content quickly with pair writing

Pair writing is a speedy way to craft content — it teams up content and subject experts to write together in a 1-2 hour session. We’ve started using this process with colleagues to improve and create University web pages.

The process

Pair writing involves getting two people to sit side-by-side to write a piece of content together.

First, there’s the content professional—someone who’s trained in how to create effective web content.

They team up with a Subject Matter Expert (SME), who can provide the specifics and background information on the subject they’re writing about.

The pair members alternate between the roles of driver and observer. The driver leads the writing, while the observer asks reflective questions, such as:

  • Is this the best angle?
  • Is the most important content at the top?
  • What do you mean by this?

At the end of the session, you aim to have a complete or nearly complete piece of content ready to go live on your site or test on users.

Pair writing process overview on UX Booth website

Pair writing at the Agile Content Conference blog post

The benefits

Pair writing is a great alternative to the more traditional method of passing email drafts back and forth.

For one, you get quality content much quicker. You get immediate feedback on your work and can craft a user-focused page in an hour or two.

Each pair member also gains additional skills. The content professional learns the necessary background on the subject straight from the expert, and the SME can pick up a few tips on how to write effective content.

While there is an up-front cost for a pair writing workshop, it can save money in the long run by:

  • saving time that would have been spent checking over drafts
  • turning your SMEs into better web writers
  • helping your department develop a mutual understanding of your content
  • cutting down on customer enquiries as a result of more effective content

Case studies

Tier 4 Census

We did our first paired writing session last summer with the Immigration Compliance team. They were receiving a number of repeat enquiries on the Tier 4 Census for international students, so we worked with them to create pages that answered those top questions.

First we wrote out user stories to identify the questions students were asking. We then voted on these stories as a means to prioritize which content we would write, focusing on the top four.

With two representatives each from our team and theirs, we crafted an entire four-page section of student-focused content in two hours. We then only needed an additional hour after the session to tidy up the pages before they were ready to go live.

A member of my team and I had a very productive pair writing session with Rachel and Lauren. It was very interesting to rethink the way we approach writing web content and sparked some interesting discussions.

Kate Monroe
Immigration Compliance

View pair written Tier 4 Census page ‘Rescheduling census attendance’

Website Programme staff profiles

We recently used pair writing in our own team to write our new staff profiles. We first met as a team to brainstorm the types of content we wanted in our profiles.

Based on our suggestions, I grouped the ideas into categories to create a profile template for our staff to follow. The template took into account the profile page’s existing categories and space to create new ones.

We all met for an hour and paired our technical and editorial staff together to write up the profiles.

Done more traditionally, this process could have easily taken weeks of chasing up staff to complete their profiles. With pair writing, we worked collaboratively as a team to plan and write our profiles, taking up no more than two hours of everyone’s time.

As a technical person, writing content isn’t my strong point. Pair writing helped make it very easy to create well structured content without the usual headaches.

Billy Wardrop
University Website Programme

View Billy Wardrop’s pair written profile

Let us help you create better content

We can help your department create user-focused content by teaming up content professionals in our team with subject matter experts in yours.

Alternatively, we can train members of your department to run a pair writing workshop themselves in your team.

If you’re interested in a pair writing session, get in touch and let us know what content you’re looking to improve on your site.

Contact the University Website Programme

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