10 Rules of Excellent UX Writing

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The primary goal of writing is to communicate something effectively. User Experience writing or commonly referred to as UX writing is the craft of designing the words people see when interacting with a product. UX writers are mainly responsible for microcopy (menu options, button labels, error messages) and macrocopy (terms and conditions, confirmation page texts, invitations, information messages). Along with designers and developers, a UX writer helps shape product experience. Their goal is to ensure that the product layout and copy both speak the same voice, same language and same tone to the user.

UX copy can either drive a negative or positive user experience and thus, is central to the user’s desirable interaction with the product. No matter how beautiful the user interface is if the copy is unclear, grammatically incorrect or deceptive, the user is likely to have a bad experience.

The UX writer is becoming an increasingly notable job title. As a result, many prominent brands today are in the market for good UX writers. We wrote this post to benefit both experienced and novice UX writers who want to expand their skillsets and increase their value in the marketplace. 

Given the subject’s broad reach, it is difficult to provide universal rules for UX writing, but below, we will discuss 10 general rules that will take your UX writing to the next level. 

1. Understand your users/target audience

Products solve ‘user’ problems, so UX writers must know their target audience. UX writers can ask a couple of questions: “How did the person end up on the screen?” and “where do you want them to go next to complete the action?” Once the intended purpose and actions are aligned, it’s easier to form the language that ensures an ideal user experience. 

Listing groups of users, group characteristics, creating their personas and writing scenarios help with understanding user motivations. This step also removes biases of various kinds, for example, confirmation bias, that re-aligns the user-centric approach in problem-solving. The more inclusive (gender, race, ability levels etc.) one is in their observations of the target audience, the more directed the end copy is aligned in its precision and application.

2. Be Simple, Clear and Concise

The worst nightmare of a UX writer is to hear sentences like: 

– What are you trying to say? 

– The text is confusing. 

If the person reading your copy feels more confused than clear, you have failed in your task of clear communication. Unfortunately, as writers with our own strong sensibilities, we sometimes miss the forest for the trees. In these cases, peer review can be your greatest asset as a fresh set of eyes makes one aware of the missing or misleading elements in your copy and makes your UX content more accessible. You can also engage a copy editor to help refine your flow.

Some effective strategies to make your copy clear are writing short sentences and using simpler synonyms wherever possible, as shown in the below example:

 Not Good: It will take some time to download

 Much Better: 5 mins. to download

Make sure every word on the screen has a job. Removing clutter by excluding more technical terms in favour of using familiar, understandable words and phrases is key to a good user experience. Below we show an example that removes jargon in error messages.

 Not Good: Would you like to delete your file? 

 Much Better: Delete file?

3. Focus on the Voice and the Tone of the Brand

As humans, we recognize others through their tone of voice and other visual cues like body language, facial expressions, etc. A person’s tone determines their state of mind and can give clues on how to proceed with the conversation. In the same vein, every company needs to provide a clear outline of the brand’s character attributes. Its voice gives it personality and a sense of what users can expect from their interaction with the product. For most brands, the voice is direct and positive, making users feel welcome during their interaction period. 

The brand’s tone is contextual and varies with identifying the potential expansion of user bases. Therefore, it is essential to utilize a relevant tone across various groups and still sound and feel highly personal to every user. The UX writer’s job is to figure out what type of voice and tone speaks best for the brand, what tone of voice is most likely to resonate with the user and one that builds a long-term trusting relationship. 

Note that the brand’s personality is not the same as your user’s personality. Chances are, they are very different. Therefore, always write centring the brand in your copy.

4. Be Consistent 

“Humans try to detect patterns in their environment all the time…” Konovalov, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at the University of Zurich, said, “because it makes learning easier. For example, if you are given driving directions in an unfamiliar city, you can try to memorize each turn. But if you see a pattern — for example, turn left, then right, then left, then right — it will be easier to remember.”

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180531114642.htm

Inconsistency creates confusion in users. For instance, it is a bad user experience to name something “Reserving” in one part of UI and then “Booking” in other parts of your UI. 

Ensuring that the copy is consistent across all products and interfaces is crucial. All parts of your products on every interface, a smartphone, tab, laptop, desktop, should give users a feeling that they were written by the same person, even though many different people prepared the copy. 

5. Keep it Conversational 

Don’t write like a bot; you are human, so write like one. Although bots are getting better with natural language, it’s still apparent that you’re talking to a bot vs. a human in many places. So keep the copy conversational with minimal formal words to make the user feel at ease with the product. 

Copy that feels like you’re striking a conversation helps, but don’t go overboard with it while sacrificing the voice and tone of your brand. Depending on your brand’s current and potential reach, the text should be lucid for anyone, regardless of culture or language. Create and add content that is easily translatable across different identities.

6. Write Using Present Tense and Active Voice 

Avoid using future tense to describe the user’s action. When the copy is displayed in the present tense, a user feels more engaged and in action. 

Not Good: Data has been saved 

Much Better: Data saved 

The passive tone induces laziness in the user’s mind. The user might feel bored and even their reading speed could slow when reading passive sentences. An active voice acts as an initiator into taking actions that will ensure smooth task completion from the user.

Not Good: The button has to be clicked for placing your order 

Much Better: Place your order

7. Empathize with Users

Empathy is one of the often-used keywords throughout the UX/UI journey. Writing with empathy ensures that a user, irrespective of their geographical location, gender, age, or disabilities, can complete the set of actions simply, efficiently, and easily. 

The role of a UX writer also consists of explaining things like Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policies. For these, a UX writer can add elements that exhibit genuine concern for the users’ overall needs. 

Understanding, contextualizing, and responding to a user’s every pain point makes the user journey a pleasant one. 

8. Be Careful with the use of Humour 

Humour has the innate power to humanize a product. But similar to every other UX component, humour should be actively designed into the process and be relevant to the product. For example, humour used for error messages of financial transactions won’t be received well by users who want to get the job done with minimal barriers. 

Also, remember that humour in one culture doesn’t necessarily translate well to other cultures. Humour has to be contextual and appropriately placed to make the user crack a smile when they encounter technical difficulties.

9. Show, Don’t Tell

The expression “show, don’t tell” comes from screenwriting and fiction, often attributed to playwright Anton Chekhov. The technique intends to allow the reader to experience the story through action, words, senses, and feelings rather than the author’s exposition and description. 

Humans are visual creatures. The ability to interpret visual information is hard-wired into our brains. As a result, it might be hard (or quite impossible) to describe something using only words. That’s where the use of imagery can help to deliver the message. It supplements the copy and provides additional information. 

10. Don’t Deny Data 

Data helps to tell stories in numbers and key performance indicators (KPIs). Numbers translate into the performance metrics of a product. Therefore, it is important to look at data closely and often. 

A/B testing and various other data analysis methodologies help the UX writers build an understanding of the people using the service and how they use it. For example, it can point toward different user groups’ patterns, such as all clicking the red button over the green one. 

Data analytics include both quantitative and qualitative data. This means conducting usability research to understand user behaviour. Another smart way to do this is to collaborate with your customer service department. They have recordings, data, and anecdotal evidence. This can show what those contacting us think, feel, and say. 

 Conclusion 

To sum up, UX writing is essential for any digital product. Research extensively and gather data before starting to craft the product language. Then, be as clear as possible and use consistent terminology throughout. Ensure the voice and tone of the brand is consistent, too, and use it accurately. Empathize with your users, use and respect their language, and think about solutions to make their life easier. Finally, test your copy, and improve identified areas to increase user engagement, conversion and retention.

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