Our top tips for UX Writing

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There’s nothing worse than good design ruined by bad copy.  Up your micro-copy game with some of the top tips I teach in my content writing workshops.

Be human

There’s no reason that written copy has to be more formal than the language we use when we speak. The following can help ensure your copy stays human:

1. Start on a positive

Think about the first impressions you create in real-life. You don’t start a conversation by sharing all your bad points or revealing too much information at once. Take this approach when writing, and avoid starting sentences with ‘we won’t..’ or ‘unfortunately.’
If you have a lot of information to communicate, you don’t need to display it all at once. Think about using progressive disclosure, where you reveal your information bit by bit, as and when the user needs to know more. Sometimes this is also known as tiering information.

2. Use plain English

At all costs avoid jargon or less frequently used words. Just say what you mean. For example:

  • Continue – not proceed
  • Start – not commence
  • Price – not premium
  • Buy – not purchase

3. Keep it simple

Contractions help make your easier to read. Compare these two:

  • “When you have finished, just click submit and we will get back to you as soon as we can.”
  • “When you’ve finished, just click submit and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”

Another tip is to keep your sentences short. In conversation you’d pause for breath or have natural breaks between words. Research shows reader comprehension drops dramatically when a sentence hits 40 words, so aim to keep your sentences under 25 words.

4. Be polite

It’s true that functional copy needs to be directive, but there’s no reason it can’t also be polite. It may make your copy longer but expressions such as “please”, “thank you”, and “OK, that’s great” help to humanise your copy.

5. Stay active

It says a lot about a company if they use active rather than passive sentences. It sets an expectation they’ll deliver. Compare these sentences:

  • “You’ll get an email confirming your renewal details within 24 hours.”
  • “We’ll send you an email confirming your renewal details within 24 hours.”

Which one would you have more faith in?

Think small

I’ve talked about small sentences. But how we say what we want to is as important as what we say. Users skim read, looking for navigational clues to help them complete their task.
Large chunks of text aren’t easy to read so format is vital. Make good use of headers, subheaders, bullet points or diagrams which can all help you avoid lots of copy.

Stay consistent

Throughout your journey check your consistency. Inconsistent capitals on titles, or inconsistent button labels (such as ‘log in’ on one page and ‘login’ on the next) will make your work seem slapdash. Set yourself or your team some guidelines for this at the beginning to help avoid these mistakes.

Don’t second guess

Ever been annoyed by a subject line on an email such as ‘We know you’d like a 10% discount’, or a sentence that reads ‘you’ll be happy to hear that…’

Users don’t always like to be told how they should think or feel, and it can come across as patronising, so bear that in mind when you’re writing headlines or instructions.

User test

One of the most important ways to ensure your UX content works within the UI is to user test.  Whether this is low-budget guerrilla testing or full-blown lab testing, it’s never a waste of time.  And don’t take criticism of your wording personally – it’s the constructive feedback you need to improve your content for the end users, and that’s your main goal.