3 quick tips for writing easy-to-read status updates

Nobody enjoys status updates. Here's how to change that.

Mikołaj Biernat
Vibin’ to vinyl records

Imagine you can no longer track your Amazon packages. Or see how much time it's left until your lunch is delivered. Or that you have no idea how long you gotta wait for your lift to pick you up.

Technology has spoilt us with the comfort of precise updates about the progress of any service. And even though we know that things take time, we still keep asking for their status to plan our days around them.

The same goes for how we work with our clients. Even though they don't come to us with deep understanding of our process — they know that nothing happens overnight. But they do pay for the time we spend on their projects, so they gotta know how we use it.

To keep them in the loop, every day we update our clients via Slack about the progress of our work. But how does an update look like?

What's included in an update

There's so much happening every (good) day that it might be tricky to gather everything you've done into a concise update. To make it easier, here's our checklist.

A quick sum up

Start with what's the most important. Those first couple sentences should give your client the overall idea, even if they don't finish reading the entire update.

Most of the time it's what you've worked on and, if that's the case, what's blocking you from continuing the work the next day.

Link(s) to your work

It depends on the tools you're using. But in our case it's usually Figma, Dropbox or the staging environment.

Whatever you go with, sharing your work via a cloud-based service is way more convenient than flooding the Slack channel with random screenshots of the latest iteration. Though remember to grant your client access before sharing.

Some context

Your work is never self-explanatory, so you gotta give enough context behind your decisions. Walk your client through your process. Did you make any assumptions you need to confirm? Why do the solutions you went with work better than others? Answer those questions and you'll get your client on board with your ideas.

Questions

Is there anything you wanna ask your client? Group your questions in this section to make them easy to spot and reply to. And don't be shy to remind the client about anything they might have missed in the last update.

Plan for the next day

Lastly, describe your plans for the upcoming day. Even if you're sharing a kanban board to organize the work on the project — explaining what's next for you in a sentence or two is much more conversational.

A screenshot of an example status update message on Slack.
Here's an example.

Tips for writing easy-to-read status updates

We covered what's included in an update. Now, let's talk about how to glue this information together.

Use the right formatting

Put the same effort into writing your status updates as you do when designing. Pay attention to contrast, layout and hierarchy. Make it clear what needs immediate attention and what information acts as additional context.

If you divide your update into sections, use bold formatting to highlight their titles. It makes it easier to see when each topic starts. If the client wants to read a specific section first — they won't have issues finding it.

You can italicize words or wrap them into inline code formatting to distinguish them from the rest of the message. It's particularly handy when referring to a title of a page or piece of microcopy.

Lists — ordered and unordered — are your best friends. Clients will most likely scan through your updates anyway, so why not make it easier for them? Lists are the go-to way of grouping more than 3 pieces of related information (think pros, cons or questions).

Finally, links are great — but remember to make them visible and readable. Don't throw in a multiple-line URL. Add links to related phrases and make them pop. Even though links are colored by default, they might get lost in a message full of words and emojis. And speaking of emojis...

Cool down with emojis

As the corporate culture — even in the most stagnant companies — has got more laid back, we want our messages to sound more human too. So it's tempting to write them as we were chatting with our friends and express our emotions with emojis.

Those can make your update fun and straightforward. But if you use too many of them, you end up with the opposite. Emojis are supposed to emphasize — but when everything's important, people don't know where to direct their attention.

So feel free to use emojis — I know you have your favorites — but don't spam them everywhere.

Oh, and a small tip: Slack lets you add custom emojis. You can include icons of the tools you use to make the links even more featured.

Make it scannable

Save flowery adjectives for a big presentation. When you write a status update, you want to communicate the most information with the least number of words. And make it easy to understand.

To do that, use plain language and drop any unnecessary elements. Avoid using so-called 'parasites' like I'd like to let you know [...] or For today's update, I prepared [...]. They don't add any meaning and only increase the distance between you and the client.

The more sense (and less words), the better.

Use an alternative

Sometimes, text-based tools aren't enough for your status updates. Some iterations need a verbal presentation to explain certain details. Here are a couple alternatives that we recommend.

Loom

Using Loom feels like being on a client call, except you talk for the entire time. It's ridiculously easy to start recording your screen with your beautiful face peeking from the corner and share it within seconds after you finish presenting.

We love Loom and will write about how we use it sooner than later — subscribe if you don't wanna miss it!

Daily syncs

Our clients often block their calendars for limited time to review our work. Being the founders of their startups, they don't always have the entire day to read our updates front to back.

In that case, we schedule daily syncs with them. 15 minutes is enough to walk them through the progress and get immediate feedback. Avoid discussing all the minor details, though, because those meetings will drag on forever. Remember that those syncs don't replace a proper review and approval.

If there’s nothing to write about

In the real world, you don't always produce a new iteration each day. Sometimes you need more time to examine your work with a pair of fresh eyes. It's just how it is, we get it — and our clients do too. But how to write an update in those situations?

Just be honest. Tell your client about what you're working on, where you're stuck and if there's anything they can help you with. If you feel comfortable, share a work-in-progress version to confirm the direction you're heading. This way your client knows what's happening and they can plan their day with that in mind.

Takeaways

  • Every day write a brief status update to your client.
  • Use the right formatting to create clear hierarchy and structure.
  • It's not poetry — write in plain English (or other language).
  • Record your update with Loom or schedule a call if it'll work better.

Mikołaj designs useful digital products and writes copy that explains them with a punchline.

Mikołaj Biernat
Product Designer
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tonik here — a design studio focused on early stage startups, helping founders define, design and build products.

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