Note: posts do need to be read in sequential order.
As designers, we often find ourselves in the position of the copywriter. It makes sense; we are closest to the interface and content in many cases drives design decisions, so it must come first.
Maybe your company doesn’t have a copywriter or UX Writer. Even when UX Writers exist, they can sometimes unintentionally be left out of the loop. Either way, the copy must be written, and the responsibility is ours, whether we asked for it, are comfortable with it or not! In digital product design, there are various places which copy appears in the interface: alerts, notifications, contextual help, buttons and so on.
This post seeks to address: as designers, what can we do to become better at writing copy for user interfaces? How can we ensure that copy is consistent and of the same tone, brand, and personality when writing copy?
I posed these questions to expert writers in the industry, and I’m really excited to share their insights! In this post:
- Roxanna Aliaga shares tips on balancing scannability with a conversational tone
- Allie Moreno shares tips on reading copy aloud and writing for accuracy, clarity, personality
- Rebecca Cha shares tips on using voice and tone to build trust and loyalty
If you’re interested in this content, follow me here on Medium and or Twitter where I’ll be sharing updates.
Roxanna Aliaga is a UX Writing Manager at Dropbox
Balancing scannability with a conversational tone is core to the UX writing craft.
When I write microcopy, I keep in mind how search engines prioritize results by headings and keywords. People prioritize by bits that resonate too, but they also want to feel like someone’s talking to them.
Optimize for scannability
Use the 5-second rule when looking at your copy to make sure you’re grabbing your user’s attention with the right stuff.
- Scan a page or popover to see what catches your eye: H1s, first few words, buttons. Is the key info there?
- Assume body copy won’t be read. Draft the title and buttons of modals and the like so they work alone. Use the body to augment.
- Front-load. If there’s only one thing that’ll motivate a user to click that button or take the next step, put it where the user’s eyes will go first.
Talk to your users
A product has a voice and tone just like a person. Good UX writing keeps the voice consistent and adjusts the tone for the experience at hand.
- Say it out loud. Does it sound like you talk? Simple language has appeal for all levels.
- Get rid of techie words, especially in CTAs. Swap in a human action so users can imagine themselves taking that action and clicking. For example, instead of “submit” try “send.”
- Have empathy for your user. The tone of an error state will be different than a success message.
As powerful as UX writing is, sometimes words can only do so much. If you find yourself needing a lot of copy to explain something, try revisiting the UX design to see if it can do some of the heavy lifting you’re asking words to do.
Allie Moreno is a UX Writer at GoPro
Read copy aloud.
When you’re writing copy, there is probably a clear goal or idea in mind — particularly if you’re designing a web flow or mobile app.
You need to get the user or reader from one place to another so you focus on that. However, if you take the time to go back and read the steps, instructions or copy aloud, you’ll be able to hear if the language is clunky, unclear, or dry. If you read it and find yourself sounding like a robot, you’ll need to edit to be a little more casual and conversational. If you find yourself out of breath, not able to naturally pause, your copy is likely too wordy and needs to be broken down into more simple sentences.
Accuracy, clarity, personality. In that order.
Everyone’s writing process is different and it should be. You have to be thinking about a lot of different things at once. One thing that will always be part of the writing process is editing and revising. It doesn’t matter if it’s one line of copy or a novel. What helps me is thinking about the process in layers.
- Accuracy: First, I write what actually needs to be said depending on the deliverable, the audience, and the intent.
- Clarity: Second, I re-read and revise to make sure that the language is simplified and as clear to understand as possible.
- Personality: And finally, I jazz up the language a little to fit the brand, product, or situation. This is especially important for marketing copy or brands with strong voices.
Then of course you’ve got to make sure you can maintain a balance of all three in your final tweaks. There can be many approaches here — and sometimes writers will be thinking about all these at once or in varying orders while drafting. Some writers can do much of this before even putting pen to paper, but you get the idea. However, for someone who isn’t a writer, I think this is the easiest way to balance it. Think of it like a checklist you’ve got to keep running through while you write.
Rebecca Cha is a UX Writer & Content Strategist at Deloitte Digital in Los Angeles
Voice and tone go a long way towards building user trust and loyalty.
But what do voice and tone really mean?
Think of it like this: your voice is uniquely yours and you can’t really change it. However, your tone changes based on who you’re talking to and how you’re feeling. Same thing goes for copy.
Voice directly represents a brand
It guides how your users should feel about the brand. It’s a vital part of the overall experience.
- Start with a style guide or brand handbook. If a company doesn’t have one, ask them how they want to represent themselves.
- Do your research. Learn what the brand has done and check out their competitors.
- Write down a few key characteristics of what you’re going for. For example: confident but not arrogant, or informative but not pedantic.
- Be consistent. The voice should remain the same no matter what or where the copy lives.
Tone can change depending on the circumstance
This is how your brand anticipates and responds to where a user is at in a flow. This shows empathy for your user.
- Know your audience. A sassy, snarky tone is hardly appropriate for someone looking for funeral services.
- Imagine your user’s state of mind. What kind of information would help you most at this point in the journey? How would you like to be addressed, if it’s a pain point?
- Think situationally. Error messages should be handled more delicately than a successful purchase transaction.
- Test it out. If you’re unsure whether the tone you picked works for the flow you’re working on, ask around or A/B test.
Inconsistent voice and tone can create scenarios where your users might feel distrustful of the experience, or even the brand. Be mindful of the user experience and craft your words to match their situation. This is how and when empathy becomes a powerful tool to have.