How do your team’s writers, designers, developers, and product managers share product copy and all the feedback about it? For a lot of teams, it’s scattered across many platforms or mediums—a comment here, an email there, and a Slack conversation somewhere in between—or gathered in copy docs.
A copy doc is a shared file that helps you and your team manage the UX copy throughout your project’s life cycle. It’s a record that includes information about the project, images showing where copy will appear, and different iterations of the text throughout the process.
Why should you use a copy doc?
Copy docs may feel pretty low-tech and old school, but they actually haven’t been around forever. Without them, it was common for people to communicate copy changes through email, in project management systems, or on the phone (gasp!). There wasn’t always a single, unified place to find information about which copy should be used or the reasoning behind it.
In a blog post only a few short years ago, Andrea Drugay (from Dropbox at the time) introduced copy docs as a way to improve the design process. Since then, the method has gained momentum and become a widely accepted practice.
Copy docs are an efficient way to manage copy, simplify communication, and keep team workflows on track. Using a shared file for each project helps your team:
- Keep everything organized in one place and minimize distractions
- Make sure everyone is working off the same version and reduce back and forth communication between team members
- Save time by reducing the number of contact points on different platforms
- Allow for easy editing and proofreading with a simple search, find, and replace options
How to create copy docs
In the past, UX writers (or non-writers on the design team) were expected to create copy ad hoc at the end of the design process. More recently, teams are seeing the value in including the UX writer early on. So ideally, teams should implement copy docs early in the workflow. Waiting until the end to complete them might mean missing important information.
Either way, coming up with a copy doc template can help streamline the process for every project and eventually make it second nature.
A copy doc can be as simple as a Word or Google Document. Ideally, the platform you choose will have a built-in way of adding feedback and engaging in a conversation, so you don’t end up going back to work across multiple platforms that’s hard to keep track of.
What do copy docs look like?
Your page header will typically include the project name, version number, and date. You’ll want to let people know whether it’s a template, first draft, or final copy. The header is also a great place to include the writer’s contact information for future reference.
Within the copy doc, it’s good practice to link to related documents like audience personas, project guidelines, design prototypes, or style guides—anything that will help the writer and the design team understand the project and maintain consistency.
The rest of the file’s appearance will vary according to team preferences, but there are some standard items you should include for each screen of your digital project:
- Page/screen name
- Copies of mockups or prototype images for reference (The picture doesn’t have to be fancy or even complete, but it will provide guidance for the amount of space you have to work with.)
- Tables containing current copy, final copy, and copy you’ve explored along the way
In the copy table, you’ll fill in the project text. For a website, that might include H1/H2 headings/subheadings, body copy, calls to action, and disclaimers.
Alternatively, if you’re working on copy for an app, you might include the text for navigation menus, notifications, and error messages. Then, in the table, include columns for the current and final versions of the copy. It’s also helpful to create a column for other options that have been considered. These may reflect a different tone or wording or a shorter version, if you’re seeing that space is an issue.
Shared documents work well because team members can add comments about their copy choices, provide feedback or vote on various copy iterations, and refer to previous versions when necessary.
Copy docs should be consistent and current
It’s essential to be consistent and keep your files up to date. For example, if you use highlights, brackets, or emojis to denote specific things, make sure everyone knows and uses the same systems across projects.
Copy docs are a great way to manage copy, communicate effectively, and keep all your information in one place. They’re versatile, easy to use, and can be incorporated into most workflows without requiring any drastic changes.
A few caveats
It doesn’t take a lot of effort or any special tools or processes to start working with copy docs. That’s generally a good thing. But there are some downsides to that, too. For one, the format of copy docs means that they often lack the visual aspect—in other words, they’re text-centric, which means anyone working on them likely lacks the context of the design.
In addition, copy docs are only valuable if they’re kept up to date. Otherwise, they’re just another document sitting in a folder somewhere collecting proverbial dust. Unfortunately, this happens often. In the rush of the day-to-day grind, updating copy docs can be a real hassle and typically isn’t top of mind for most writers and teams.
Finally, copy docs have to be actively handed off to designers and developers. They’re not “pushed” or “pulled” automatically, which means they risk getting forgotten or neglected, with the up-to-date UX copy not making it into the product.
Copy docs are probably not here to stay
Using copy docs made a lot of sense a few years ago, but as content design teams grow and modern tools (like Frontitude) arise, the framework no longer fits into the current way of working, which is more dynamic, connected, and collaborative. Copy docs paved the way for modern UX copy collaboration, but technological tools will likely take it forward and modernize the workflows around this asset.