Our writing guidelines (they’re for everyone, not just for writers)

Words matter. The words we choose and the way we present them is vitally important to how users interact with our services, our products, our brand.

And although most of us create, use or interact with content on a daily basis, the words and the content design is hard to get right.

Most people are time-poor and have a lot of things competing for their attention. So if we want our content to be effective, we need to get it to them:

  • quickly
  • in a way they understand
  • through the most effective or expected channel
  • at the time that’s best for them

Doing the above helps us meets the needs of the people who are interacting with us, shows respect for their time, and makes our messages, services and brand more successful.  

Working with words at the Co-op

Co-op has a community of content designers, creative writers, editors, social media experts and copywriters who are making interacting with the Co-op more straightforward and effective. We work across a range of services, departments and channels to create content that puts the user first.

But absolutely everyone across the Co-op, no matter what their job role, communicates to different audiences, for different purposes. This makes it hard for our approach and our messages to be consistent.

We’ve written guidelines to help

We hope these pointers will help people put the needs of the people they’re communicating with first. Each tip is based on things we’ve learnt about how people read, how they speak, their motivations, anxieties and their priorities.

Of course, the guidelines will evolve based on feedback. We’d love to know what you think so let us know in the comments or email content@coopdigital.co.uk

Co-op Digital writing guidelines

Be respectful
People talk about things in different ways.
Use words your audience understands.

Be clear
People don’t know what you know.
Don’t make assumptions about people’s knowledge.

Be considered
Too much content complicates your message.
Use the right words, not more words.

Be sensitive
People arrive at your content with different experiences, insecurities and struggles.
Put yourself in their shoes.

Be inclusive
Jargon and acronyms confuse and alienate people.
If you have to use them, explain what they mean.

Be purposeful
People are busy.
Find out what they need to know and give it to them quickly.

Writing’s on the wall

We’ve made a set of posters on the guidelines and they’re starting to appear on various walls around Federation House and Angel Square. We’re hoping they’ll remind people to be mindful when they’re communicating – to help them make each word count.

You can download our writing guidelines now.

Thank you to Jack Fletcher for designing these posters.

Jo Schofield
Content designer


Starting work on our content design principles

I’m Sabrina and I’m a web content consultant on the Co-op Insurance digital content team. Recently, me and my colleagues Elliot and Huw got together with Co-op Group Digital and content strategist Sarah Richards to start putting together some content design principles. This post is about the reasons for doing this, as well as what we did in the first of the 2 content workshops. We’ll talk about the second workshop in another post soon.

Balancing good content with insurance rules and regulations

On the Co-op Insurance team, we’re working towards an easy-to-use service that lets customers put in their details, choose the right cover for them, get a quote and buy the insurance. It should be simple. But the insurance industry is governed by rules and regulations. Because of this we’ve found that content design (the words, the prompts and the order the pages appear) can be overlooked which is dangerous because good content design puts the user first. The user, or customer, should be able to visit the site and find what they’re looking for easily and quickly. Putting together some content design principles will help us put the customer first, always.

Taking a user-centred approach

Our user testing and customer journey mapping showed us that customers want to reach their insurance quote quickly and easily. However, it was easy to put perceived business needs above customer needs. This meant we were inclined to put small print in a more prominent position than other insurers which meant that the site was full of ‘important’ information that nobody reads.

Customers shouldn’t need to understand the complex financial issues attached to buying insurance. It’s our job to mask quirks, legalese and regulations with plain, compliant English.

We’re working towards putting a content style guide together to improve the way we approach content, particularly with regard to education of stakeholders. Meeting people from around the Co-op in the 2 workshops has helped us do that.

Workshop 1: mapping the process

We used different coloured post-its to map out the process we go through to get new content on the site. This way it was easy to see:

  • the number of steps and the timeframes they happen in
  • at which points stakeholders get involved
  • digital and approval systems
  • where the pain points are

We used blue post-its for each step in the publishing process. We then added pink post-its to show which stakeholders are involved and at what point. Seeing the stakeholder involvement mapped against the whole process is a good way to see where early stakeholder engagement might help smooth the process further down the line.

We also mapped out where digital approval systems are used. This helped to identify the influence that such systems have on both stakeholders and steps.

Finding pain points is the first step to fixing things

Finally we added in more post-its to highlight the parts in the process that are usually troublesome. Linking the pain points to the steps helped us investigate why these parts are tricky and also identify any recurring themes. The workshop gave the team some great ideas about how we can improve the process and how pain points can be reduced or eliminated. We’ll use this to help set out a new process for publishing content and it will feed into our content design principles.

It isn’t easy changing process or behaviour, particularly when there are a lot of stakeholders involved. But the process mapping is a solid starting point and it is a great tool to spark discussion around change.

We’ll be blogging about our second workshop on user stories soon. You can sign up to the blog to make sure you don’t miss it.