Testing your copy for the price of a coffee
4 tips and 1 warning
A/B testing your copy is amazing. But let’s be realistic — not every UX writer has access to expensive user testing tools.
Don’t get discouraged. There are other ways you can test your copy, and all for the price of a cup of coffee.
1. Cafe testing
This is one of my favourite methods for quick feedback — it’s so easy and eye-opening and gives you an instant reality check about whether your copy makes sense. You’d need a prototype or a piece of paper with your copy.
The most important thing is to focus discussion on the one thing you want to test — a script with questions is a useful way to keep things on track. Remember that you only have up to 15 minutes of someone’s time.
Try to do this kind of testing with another person, so one of you can take notes while the other asks questions. Alternatively, a voice recorder makes it easier to keep the conversation flowing about your copy — just make sure you ask interviewees permission first.
We usually go to the local cafe and approach people waiting in a line for a coffee. We introduce ourselves and ask for 10–15 minutes of their time and offer to pay for a coffee. It might surprise you by how many people are willing to help and tell you what they think about your work.
Approaching strangers can feel a little daunting — our user researchers gave us some great tips to keep things friendly and on-track:
Ask only open-ended questions — they bring in-depth answers and start new conversations. For example: “What do you think of this”, instead of “Do you want to use this?”.
Avoid jargon — this puts everyone on a level playing field. People will feel they understand you and won’t be worried if they are giving the “wrong” answer. (By the way, reassure them that there are no wrong answers, as whatever they say will be of tremendous help for you to improve your copy.)
Never base your question on a conclusion — this primes people and influences their response, thus tainting the results you’re after. So, instead of “How do you like this feature?” ask “How do you find what you read here?”
Ask people to narrate their thoughts and avoid helping them find a way through a prototype. Although it might be tempting, never, ever finish their sentences. Instead, rely on silence.
Leaving a pause after your interviewee finishes a sentence is a really helpful technique. We have a natural tendency to keep… This is when we feel more relaxed and so give more thought-through answers. If they ask for the right answer, try to get the question back to them.
You could respond with: “What do you think should happen, or what do you expect to happen after you click here?” This way, you avoid leading them through your product or copy reasoning, framing their answers at the same time. If they have difficulties figuring out what next, that is an important insight into the troubles users may experience using your product in the future.
2. Online craft groups feedback
Join online UX copy communities where UX wizards comment on each other’s work. Don’t be shy to ask for feedback in these groups. Great communities to dig into are Facebook’s Microcopy & UX Writing or Linkedin’s Content Strategy or UX Writing.
Getting craft feedback from other UX writers is incredibly valuable, as they can give real-life examples of successful (and not so successful) copy. Though this isn’t strictly a user test — such as A/B testing or cafe interviews — getting feedback from craft peers can help steer your copy in new ways, and generate ideas that you can try later.
Using this method, you’ll get really great feedback from people in the know. And you’ll save the cost of a cuppa, too.
3. Colleagues from different departments
If talking to strangers is not your thing, you can always bribe a colleague with a coffee. Think of Jenny from Finance, or Miguel from HR. They’re not living and breathing UX every day, and are far enough removed from your product to act as a fresh pair of eyes.
You might also ask a new colleague to help with this one. In Booking.com we often ask colleagues who recently joined the company to test new products as they are not familiar with them.
The process should be pretty similar to the cafe test. Prepare the questions you want to ask in advance to steer conversation — without priming — and record the conversation, or take notes.’
4. Family and friends
There’s a surefire measure for success in UX copy: if your grandma can understand your writing, everyone else can too.
Testing your work can be a great opportunity for that long due visit to your grandparents or cousins. OK, so your grandma may not be your target audience, but that’s exactly the point. The idea here is that your copy should be crystal clear to everyone, whether they use your product or not.
You can also turn Sunday brunch with friends into a focus group discussion. A change in regular topics will definitely bring new insights.
Once again, have a list of questions on hand and ask every person to answer the same questions. Do not ask leading questions and ask them to think aloud. Try to record the answers so you can analyse them afterwards.
Depending on the size of your family or friends’ group, this one might cost you more than one coffee, but hey, it’s worth it!
Creating your fresh new copy for that killer product based on these feedback methods can be potentially harmful. It might just tempt you into investing in a fancy espresso machine to pay back all the help you’ve got. Or you might end up pursuing the barista’s way, robbing the world of a great UX writer. It certainly won’t hurt your caffeine tolerance – every writer drinks coffee.
Joke aside, in the ever-evolving UX world, we should always explore opportunities to understand how our copy resonates with others and look for new ways to get feedback on our work. That is the most certain way to grow in the craft.