Collaboration

Designing and formatting messages in Slack

Tips to make your messages quicker and easier for everyone to read

By the team at SlackDecember 5th, 2019Illustration by Pete Ryan

Good design brings clarity to conversations. Though most of what people type into Slack is plain text, thanks to a slew of formatting options you can add emphasis and hierarchy (along with a few emoji) to your longer messages to give them structure and help you get your point across better.

Thoughtfully laid-out messages don’t need to be your focus for every interaction in Slack, but they can be extremely helpful in specific contexts—such as announcements or summaries, in-channel meetings or when posting requests for others—to help people scan them faster and quickly glean the most relevant points.

The basics of Slack’s message composer

When you’re writing a message in Slack, press the Aa button to reveal a formatting panel in both Slack’s desktop and mobile apps. Highlight any text you’ve written then click options like bold, italics, strikethrough or code format to give messages the right emphasis or to make key excerpts stand out.

A text editor makes it easy to format messages in Slack

Aside from text formatting options, there are also buttons to create ordered or unordered lists, and blockquotes—all of which are great for breaking up big blocks of text and adding some illustrative detail. Combine these with shift + enter (or the return key on mobile) to add lines, breaking up long messages.

You can use these basic formatting options to communicate more clearly and concisely in Slack.

Clean message formatting for easy standups

For small teams at any organization, it’s useful to have a public channel for the group to communicate about work and post daily updates (the latter replaces time-consuming, in-person standup meetings). It’s a great way to keep everyone informed and maintain visibility for the whole team.

Slack’s content team uses the command /remind #team-editorial
at 9:45am every weekday Hey @editorial-team What’s on today?
to prompt us each morning to post updates on our current projects. You can also ask for weekly reflections to share successes or lessons learned. Using simple bullet points or emoji, the result is a clean, scannable list that a manager can review quickly when needed.

Formatting a weekly standup message in Slack

You can also use emoji to indicate the status of items on lists. For example, a project that’s nearing completion gets a 🔵 as its bullet, a task in progress gets a ⚪️ and any projects struggling with blockers get a 🔴. Managers can quickly see which tasks need additional resources to move forward, and which are on time.

Writing companywide announcements in Slack

Companywide announcement channels are another place where subtle design cues can make your messages more intuitive and easier to read.

A well formatted company announcement in Slack

Imagine that every Monday morning, your internal communications team posts to an organization-wide channel highlighting notable things happening that week, such as learning opportunities or open benefits enrollment. These updates are often loaded with information, so a combination of emoji and bolded titles can help break up the wall of text into digestible chunks.

A well formatted message to the Sales team in Slack

You can use the same principle for teamwide announcements. In Slack’s companywide #sales channel, our team celebrates every major contract with a summary of data, including deal size, company details, shoutouts to employees who helped and lessons from the process. It’s easy for anyone in the company to scan the feed of new sales, get a handle on the team’s output and celebrate wins.

Designing message workflows for requests and approvals

Since introducing Workflow Builder in Slack, we’ve used it for dozens of channels dedicated to fielding requests, like asking the IT team for help, or notifying the PR team that an interview request needs review. Submitters can use Workflow Builder to launch a standardized form, which, once completed, is sent into channels or direct messages for review.

Imagine a channel where you could give the office team a heads-up when a customer is arriving for a meeting, so the team can prepare a conference room and food and beverages. Your form would look like so:

Workflow Builder in Slack

Forms you create can be customized before appearing as results in a message. Using the ideas we learned about text emphasis and emoji to help denote hierarchy, formatting your results means staff can quickly scan requests, easily find the key information and approve requests on the spot.

A message from Workflow Builder in Slack

Putting it all together

The next time you have more than a line of information to share, try out a few ✅ formatting ideas to make it more readable. Formatting your messages can be a clear and courteous way to share information more easily with your colleagues.

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