Norwegian design agency, Netlife Research, has been pioneering pair writing. Bjørn Bergslien, senior consultant at Netlife Research, gives some insights into its approach.

According to Bergslien, some of the key benefits of pair writing are that:

  • It makes the team truly think about what they are about to publish.
  • It forces authors to stay focused.
  • It helps colleagues form a mutual understanding of their content.
  • It results in a more uniform tone.
  • It allows authors to share best practices with regard to writing for the web.

Step 1 is to figure out which content you’re going to focus on. Ideally, this should be based on a top tasks analysis, so that you focus on the content that supports the completion of top tasks.

Step 2 is to arrange a workshop. Invite the key people involved in the creation of content for the top tasks, such as communicators, product owners, marketers and customer service staff. Stress that it is not necessary to be a professional writer. Make sure half of the attendees bring a laptop. Remind them that this is a collaborative process, and that nothing major is expected of any individual.

Step 3 is to break people up into pairs. “Often, it’s a good idea to have one communications or marketing person along with one subject matter expert,” Bergslien explained. “That way you get the best of both worlds.”

“Next, have each pair grab a computer and fire up a word processing program. I suggest Google Docs, as it has great features such as comments, chat and sharing. This can come in handy both during and after the workshop.”

Have one person per pair be the main writer, with the other one being the editor, devil’s advocate or antagonist. Have them ask questions like:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What part of the task does this content support?
  • Is this the best angle?
  • Is the most important content at the top?
  • What do you mean by this?
  • Is this easy to scan?
  • Is there a simpler way to say this?

Step 4 is to switch things around. After about 45 minutes, ask people to switch pairs. The more varied the feedback the better. Have this step last about 20 minutes.

Step 5 is to bring things into a general discussion. This should last about one hour. Get people to talk about the content they’ve created and how it helps support task completion, and ask for feedback from the rest of the audience. Is this content simple and clear enough? Is it short enough?

Pair writing is a process, not one workshop. What you want to encourage is that the organization integrating this into the way they work, the way they create content. This is happening, according to Bergslien. On an ongoing basis you might consider using remote meeting software like GoToMeeting or Webex to continue the collaborative process.