Adobe's Andy Welfle on Proofreading

"Nothing beats going through pages on a clipboard with red ink."

Microcopy comes in many forms. For Andy Welfle, who co-wrote the book on UX writing with Michael Metts, it might come in the form of the writing inside Adobe's software in his day job. Or, it might come in paperback form, in the zines he publishes on the side.

Either way, getting the words right matters, and Andy's preferred way to get there is with a pencil or pen.

Here's Andy on his writing and proofreading workflow:

What's your favorite thing you've written recently?

I’m working on an essay for an upcoming issue of Plumbago Magazine, a zine I edit about pencils and analog creative pursuits, about my great-grandfather. My mother and I have been going through some ephemera she has that belonged to him, and she sent me a little notebook he journaled in, almost exactly 100 years ago after he died. He was an engineer by trade, and a musician by hobby, and although we are very different (I am neither an engineer nor a musician), I’ve really found some connection with him through that journal. My essay’s a bit about that, and a bit about preserving analog artifacts of our family.

What's your standard writing workflow?

When I’m writing something longform: I usually start off in a Markdown editor. I typically prefer Ulysses or iA Writer — I can move really quickly with Markdown and I really love the balance those two apps strike in how they display plaintext but also show some validation formatting so I know I coded it correctly. In the last few years, though, I’ve been using lightweight editors like Dropbox Paper and Notion (I’m writing a draft of this in Notion, in fact). I like that they let you format with Markdown, with command key shortcuts, or with a popup WYSIWYG bar.

When I’m writing something for a user experience or in a software interface: This is a lot less linear than writing an article or a blog post, so I typically will write where I take notes, and at Adobe, that’s usually in a Dropbox Paper doc. I can try out some formatting options, create a lightweight table to structure some text or write for dynamic contexts, and easily get character/word counts (which matter a lot). Plus, then I can share it for review, comments, or co-editing, before it gets inserted in an Adobe XD design file.

When I’m writing a quick note: I love, love Drafts. It’s an app that spans iOS and macOS and the premise is that it’s “where writing starts”. Sometimes if I’m taking a note, or writing a limerick, or drafting an email, I’ll tap the little Drafts app icon on my phone and instantly, a blank window with a cursor pops up. I can just get started writing. And after I’m done, there’s an action sheet that I can bring up to copy it to the clipboard, or send it to another app like Notes or Evernote, and even little scripts that can do stuff like “Append to Grocery list”. Plus, it syncs really well between platforms so I can start on my phone and finish on my desktop.

If you want to hear me blather on and on about this topic, I used to record a podcast with a friend of mine about digital and analog productivity called Dot Grid. Episode 3 was all about Markdown!

What's your favorite way to proofread your work and spot things to change?

It depends! Sometimes, if it’s very longform (like if I’m editing my zine, or editing chapters in a book), I’ll print it out! Like, on dead trees! Nothing beats going through pages on a clipboard with red ink (I really love a Papermate InkJoy pen, although I just ordered some red-cored Blackwing pencils to try out).

If it’s shorter form — like an article-length document that someone else wrote — I try to give good, actionable feedback in something like Google Docs with Track Changes turned on. This is how Michael Metts and I edited drafts of our book, Writing is Designing. (We go into more detail in episode 23 of Dot Grid.)

And if I’m editing something UXy, I usually do it right in Dropbox Paper, in comments or in a column beside the original.

What do you do with the things you cut?

Sometimes if I’m feeling ruthless, I delete them forever! Sometimes, though, I put a little area at the bottom of a document, or a special document for overflow. When we were writing Writing is Designing, the chapters that I primarily wrote would have a separate document for bits and pieces that I cut out. And sure enough, a couple of times it came in handy because it fit better elsewhere.

What's your ideal editing workflow?

Honestly, my system isn’t too bad for me, although I would love a better way to visualize really complex Track Changes edits. Sometimes if you make too many small edits or comments, a Word or Google Docs file is just an absolute mess. I imagine something that looks a bit more like github branching or code editor versioning resolution modals.

I won’t even get into text string editing for tools like Figma or Adobe XD — we’re seeing a lot of great plugins, but nothing that gives us tools that are as powerful for writing/editing workflows for layouts like, say, InCopy from back in the day.

→ Check out Writing is Designing, the book Andy co-authored on UX Writing with Michael Metts, and follow him on Twitter @awelfle.

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