Atlassian's Peter Preston on Proofreading

"Read it out loud to see if it sounds like a script or if it flows."

Writing is perhaps one of the most universal job skills, not something reserved for "official" writers. For product marketers, such as Atlassian's Peter Preston, writing is part of how you promote your product. In a way, that keeps your writing more focused, versus writing in more creative pursuits.

You want people to read your writing, then do something about it. And that changes proofreading into an active role, as you read through your potential readers' eyes.

Here's Peter on writing and proofreading, as a product marketer and for his blog:

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

Reading my writing or watching videos of myself is cringey at best. If I have to pick one article though, it's How to unship a feature: a simple communication strategy to keep customers happy from last September.

I enjoyed the research and writing it. I was using my research as I wrote the article. We were removing a popular part of our software and writing the article helped my team nail the messaging.

What's your standard writing workflow?

What do I want readers to do after reading it?

Before I write, I make notes about what interests me and what I'm learning right now. I mostly use pen and paper, but sometimes I use the Notes app on my phone. But as you recently wrote about, my Notes app is often where ideas go to collect dust :)

When I sit down to write, I start with an outline. What am I writing about? What do I know that I can share? What do I hope readers to get out of it? What do I want readers to do after reading it? From there, I add 2-3 bullet points to each idea. I might rearrange the outline. After adding bullets and changing the order, I have an outline easy to write to.

If I need to do research, I'll do that after outlining the ideas. Research often leads to outline changes.

If the outline happens on a Monday, I'll usually start writing on Tuesday. WhenI write, I try to write everything I can about each item on the outline. Freeflow. I'll often edit as I go, but I try not to. I'll add notes to self if I need to research anything. Research happens kind of ad hoc.

Once I've written something for every point in the outline, I save it and walk away for a day or two if there's no urgent deadline.

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

Pen and paper, but I don't do that often. I use iA Writer, so I open the article and hide the library/file view so all I see is the doc. Then I read it out loud to see if I sound like I'm reading a script or if it flows.

With my team, my favorite way to proofread is by giving articles to someone else. We have a team Slack channel just for proofreading requests. Anyone on the team can add a link and ask for specific or general feedback. We use Confluence to add comments and suggest changes. After getting the doc back from reviewers, I'll review each suggestion and update the doc as needed.

What do you do with the things you cut?

Mostly delete them and never look back. My approach lately has been to cull and clean out. If it didn't make the cut today, it's not allowed to stick around for tomorrow.

That said, if an idea is big enough to be its own piece, page, or article, I add it to a list of topics I'd like to write about. Sometimes these ideas don't fit what I'm writing today, but could be something fun to dig into later.

What's your ideal editing workflow?

My ideal editing workflow is simple. Or it feels simple to me.

  1. Brainstorm a list of ideas. When it's time to write, I don't stress what to write about. Topics are there. If I put my hands on the keyboard, I can write.
  2. Outline and research the idea
  3. Write the first draft
  4. Review and edit
  5. Prep for publication, including graphics, SEO, promotional material as needed
  6. Schedule it

I use a kanban board to move articles through the process. My routine has slipped lately, but each weekday is dedicated to a stage of the process. For example, Mondays are brainstorming and outlining days. Tuesdays are writing. Wednesday/Thursday are open. Friday is usually when I'll prep for publication.

→ Check out Peter Preston's blog, and follow him on Twitter @pgpreston.

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