Technical Writing @ Microsoft

Everyone in technical writing loves a good error message ...

and Microsoft is no exception. During Summer 2017, I interned on the Content Experience team at Microsoft, which is in charge of crafting all the words that show up when you're using one of their products, including:

  • Button names

  • Set-up instructions

  • Content on Microsoft Support for when you get stuck.

Here, I'll walk through the projects I completed during my time as an intern!

The Details

Team: Content Experience in the Windows and Devices Group

Collaborators: Doug Kim (manager) and Ashley Walls (mentor and UX writer)

Duration: June 2017 - Sept. 2017

Skills: Inclusive design, UX writing, and user research

I had three main projects during my internship:

  • Technical writing: Write scripts for a new feature that will exist in Settings of Windows 10.

  • Research: Develop content for a deliverable that will be used by internal design and product teams.

  • Personal reflection: Wrote LinkedIn and Medium articles about the lessons learned from my internship, and how my experience was influenced my identity as a person of color.

Here, we will focus on technical writing!

The problem Space:

Traditionally, technology has been optimized for people who learn through trial and error. Because of this, other learning styles, or people who need additional support or context, have been overlooked.

My intern projects strived to make Microsoft products more inclusive for people with different learning styles, all while ensuring that our content was accessible and inclusive for any Microsoft user.

Our approach to learning can fall anywhere on this spectrum!

During my internship, I realized that any person can prefer guidance - it simply depends on their context or motivation. Our team's goal was to make a person’s experience in Settings of Windows devices feel as intuitive as possible, and provide guidance where it would be helpful.

My role

Working on this team made me realize that writing is central to any user experience. For example, how could you find the new Photos app that’s now renamed “Story Remix” if you don’t have a “What’s New” section to guide you?

As an intern, I wrote crisp, helpful, and friendly user interface text based on data on customer intent. I did this for 1) a new feature that will come out in 2018 and 2) help articles on Microsoft Support's page.

Using data to understand intent

To choose scenarios for my new content area, I used data on raw customer queries to define the scope of the queries I wrote. Then, I cross-referenced content that we already had on to ensure that my language was consistent and included any relevant call-outs.

Concise is Nice

One of the hardest things to learn about interning at Microsoft was focusing on keeping my content concise and conversational. My goal was to write friendly UX/UI text that would address the customer's need and problem, but explain this in terms that were familiar to any user.

Microsoft focuses on writing text that sounds the way that people actually talk - in short, no more robot speak. Because the text is meant to be short and clear, every word counts.

I often worked with my manager to remove as much extraneous content as possible to ensure that I was telling a clear and direct story! His advice? Delete as much as you possibly can while still telling the story - and then delete a little more if you can.

A before-and-after of some text I wrote to explain different learning styles

A before-and-after of some text I wrote to explain different learning styles

REvising microsoft support content (SMC)

In addition to working on my intern projects, I revised some of the Microsoft Support content that had low customer satisfaction or was missing important pieces of information.

Here is the revised content:

View display settings in Windows 10

This is a topic on changing display settings - Since the advanced display settings had been deprecated, we needed to explain where the features had moved to. For this reason, I add the bullet points about scale and layout, display color, and color calibration.

Microsoft Support Content on the Alarms & Clock app. I added the steps that explain how to 1) open the app, 2) disable the alarm, and 3) change the time zone to address verbatim comments about these topics (