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Pair writing

Use pair writing to create content side-by-side with a subject expert. For example, a technical expert, lawyer or policy writer.

Why use pair writing?


The benefits of pair writing are:

  • you are both creating content to the same user needs
  • your subject expert will gain understanding of the content creation process
  • continual feedback and input improves the content quality
  • it helps you create an awareness of content design in business and policy areas
  • it speeds up the content approval process as content decision makers are involved early on in the content development
  • it avoids time-consuming back-and-forth dialogue of feedback between writer and subject expert
  • the content will follow the appropriate style and tone, in line with the Content Guide
  • there is less chance of error and miscommunication between teams

It's best to do a pair writing exercise at the start of content development, after you have completed user research.

Prep timePeopleRun time
1 hour21 hour

Preparation

It's useful for a writing pair to include a subject expert and a content expert. This can be one-on-one or in a workshop scenario with several pairs working at once.

If you're working remotely, you can pair write using video conferencing and a collaborative tool such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word or other suitable tool.

Materials

  • a laptop or paper, depending on your preference
  • a quiet space to write

Even a short one-on-one session writing with a subject expert can be highly beneficial for your content. This will save you time in the long term by answering questions and issues early on.

How to do pair writing


Be clear with your writing partner about:

  • how much time you need from them
  • the structure of the writing sessions
  • deadlines

Let your partner know they are there for their expertise in a certain area. They don't have to be a strong writer.

Step 1: Start with user needs

At the start of the session you need to outline your user needs and the aim of the content. The aim may include a business need or the subject expert’s objective for the content.

Articulating the user needs at the start will put you both in the same mindset, working towards the same goal.

If you are in a workshop it’s useful to get group feedback on your user needs and content objective.

Step 2: Outline your roles

One person will be the main writer and the other is the observer. The observer’s role is to study and question the content, looking at:

  • jargon is there a clearer way of writing it?
  • user needs does the content meet user needs?
  • meaning is the content clear?
  • style does the content follow the Content Guide?

You should swap roles so you both experience writing and observing.

Step 3: Create the content

Write for 10 to 15 minutes and then stop to discuss and review your writing. After this, it’s good to swap roles and start the process again.

If the writer is uncomfortable with an observer watching them write, try giving them space to write and then coming back together.

Keep your sessions to around 1 hour as many people need time to get used to writing with someone next to them. The process is very productive, but quite intensive.

Follow up


After your pair writing session you should continue the back-and-forth discussion until the content is approved.

For complex content you may decide that another pair writing session is needed.

References