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How we write

Good writing is the single most undervalued talent a startup can have.

This page is adapted from our internal writing guide, which covers everything from memos and emails, to policies and press releases. We've made it public because it's a good way to hold ourselves accountable for how we communicate in writing, and because we hope it will be helpful to others.

Why good writing is important

Writing is great because when you write something down once, it can be read by an infinite number of people, forever.

Writing scales.

How well it scales is largely a function of how clear the writing is. Clear writing can be read and absorbed faster, which means people are more likely to find it useful and go on to share it with others. So if it takes you an extra four hours to write something well, but it saves dozens (or even hundreds) of future readers 30 minutes each, then that is a great investment of your time.

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How much time should you spend now to save time later on? Co-founder Allen Rohner breaks down the maths in his blog post Is It Worth It?

For documents that will be written once and read often, like policies or blog posts, good writing is paramount; you should definitely put in the extra time to make sure your words are easy to read. For a quick email or action list, good writing is not as crucial, but even here, investing a few minutes to improve clarity can potentially save time and confusion later on. Basically, good writing is almost always time well spent.

As remote, asynchronous work becomes the new normal, the need for good writing goes from important to critical. We can't rely on always being able to grab someone for a quick chat. People won't always be able to get a feel for how we do things from observing their colleagues at the office. This means that we need to be really obsessive about documenting our decisions and our processes in writing so everyone has equal access to information.

Good writing and our culture

We don't view good writing as an optional extra or nice-to-have. Good writing is a key building block of our Culture.

  • Thoughtfulness. Expressing ourselves in writing forces us to be structured and precise about what we're trying to say. The process of writing something down often exposes weaknesses or gaps in our thinking. Writing isn't just how we communicate ideas; it's how we develop and refine them.

  • Kindness and empathy. Face-to-face communication beats writing when it comes to conveying empathy and creating human connection. That's why we need to go the extra step in our writing to make sure the words we choose are warm and friendly. (On a meta-level, we show each other courtesy and consideration when we spend a bit of extra time making sure our writing is easy to read.)

  • Be deserving of trust. One of the best ways to earn our customers' trust is to always communicate with them clearly, honestly, and directly. This is particularly important when we're talking about hard subjects like conduct, risk, compliance, or technical details.

  • Simple made easy. We are always looking for ways to simplify complex things. Clear, succinct writing is one of the most basic ways we can do this. Good writing saves time and reduces the potential for errors and misunderstandings.

  • Transparency. We are transparent by default. We share as much as we legally can about our products and how we work, and we are careful not to hide our meaning behind unnecessary legalese or waffle.

The basics of good writing

  • No spelling or grammar mistakes. We live in the future. Spellcheck is good now. Everyone makes typos, but it's basic courtesy to read over your own work before asking others to read it.

  • Use simple language. Anyone at Griffin should be able to read and understand what you've written, even if it isn't their area of expertise. Don't rely on jargon to get your point across and define technical concepts at first use.

  • Write as you would speak. Writing flows well when it follows the rhythms of ordinary speech. You can test whether you're doing a good job of this by reading your writing out loud - convoluted sentences and weird constructions will become obvious pretty quickly.

  • Leave no room for doubt. Clear writing scales. Confusing or ambiguous writing not only wastes time, but potentially creates problems for us and for our customers. Whether or not an action is permitted by a given document should be crystal clear.

  • Respect your reader's time. Get to the point and then stick to it. Avoid long, rambling sentences. Don't repeat yourself. Use headings and bulleted lists to structure the information so readers can quickly find what they're looking for. Link back to existing documents instead of reinventing the wheel.

Voice and tone

The words we choose are one of the most important ways we show our customers and each other that we understand and are here to help. This applies across every use case - marketing, terms and conditions, products and user interfaces, and how we talk internally.

Voice and tone are slightly different. Our voice is who we are. We always speak with this voice, regardless of the context. Our tone is our attitude. While our attitude is fairly consistent, we may emphasise different parts of it depending on the circumstances and who we're talking to.

Our voice is clear, honest, and direct.

  • We say exactly what we mean, as simply and directly as we can. When technical language is necessary (and sometimes it will be), we define and contextualise it, and use it consistently.

  • We talk about Griffin in the first person. "We have zero tolerance for bribery" vs. "Griffin has zero tolerance for bribery".

  • We don't avoid responsibility by using the passive voice. "We have decided to close your account" vs. "a decision has been made to close your account".

  • We don't waste people's time. We are clear about who our products are intended for and how much they cost so there's no confusion.

Our tone is...

... empowering

Our customers come to us because they want to build new products, reach new markets, and generally do exciting and innovative things in the fintech space.

A lot of customers have probably been told at some point that the thing they want to do is impossible. We're here to tell them that it is possible and that we can help them get there.

Sometimes our customers don't know how to do what they want to do. If that's the case, our job is to provide clarity on what they need to meet their goals.

Our focus is always on what we can do for the customer. Our language is about building, potential, and the future.

... warm and positive

We think Griffin is an amazing company, and we're vocal about it! We are actively appreciative of our colleagues, partners, investors, and customers, who are all collectively responsible for making Griffin possible.

By the same token, we don't attack our competitors, and we don't call out flaws in what others are doing. We show we're the best by providing an amazing product and user experience, not by mud-slinging.

We start with a positive framing by default. We focus on solutions over problems and opportunities over challenges.

... fun, but professional

We're excited about our products and we want other people to be excited about them too! But the core of our business is taking care of other people's money and we want to be clear that we take this role very seriously. We aim for an inviting and enthusiastic tone, but don't use jokes in our marketing material or when dealing with external stakeholders (though we do like to joke internally).

This doesn't mean we have to be overly formal in our written communications. We can be serious without sounding stuffy.

Our checklist

Basics

  • Have I checked for grammar and spelling mistakes?

  • Could anyone at Griffin read this and understand it?

  • Could any part of this be more succinct?

  • If there's jargon, does it absolutely need to be there?

  • Does this sound natural when I read it out loud?

Voice

  • Are we taking responsibility for our decisions and actions?

  • Are we using active voice over passive voice?

  • Are we sharing everything we can legally share? If not, why not?

  • Are we being direct and honest? (Particularly if we're delivering bad news.)

Tone

  • Who is the audience for this piece of writing and does it meet their needs?

  • Are we focusing on solutions over problems?

  • Are there negatives we could be turning into positives?

  • Are we acknowledging the efforts of others and showing appreciation?

  • Are we communicating our enthusiasm and inviting the reader to share in it?