The Handy List of Human Words

Deanna Horton
Curiosity by Design
3 min readOct 15, 2019


A plain language word list for UX writing and help content to make your writing sound more human. Illustration by Anne Smith

At SurveyMonkey, we write words that are simple, direct, and human. These basic content principles align with most style guides for writing on the Internet, and at this point they’re deeply ingrained in the brains of everyone on our content strategy team.

But when you’re in the weeds — trying to explain a complicated feature in a help article or writing copy for a modal that needs to meet specific legal requirements — it’s easy to let some robotic words slip into your writing.

I kept seeing the same complex words show up again and again in UI designs and help articles. Eventually, it became second nature to quickly spot them and replace them with plain language. Writing in plain language makes your content easier to read, easier to understand, and more accessible. It’s the right thing to do for your customers and your business.

To help my team spot robotic words in their own writing, I created The Handy List of Human Words.

About the list

The Handy List of Human Words focuses on words that tend to show up in UI copy and help articles. They usually creep into your writing when you’re trying to explain things like:

  • who can do something
  • what you can do
  • what you can’t do
  • what you need
  • what you need to do
  • how to do something
  • other ways to do something
  • what happens if you do something
  • what happens if you don’t do something
  • when something happens
  • why something happens

Use this as a reference when you’re editing your own content. I promise it’ll make your writing more simple, direct, and human. :)

The Handy List of Human Words

[robotic word] → [human word]


he or she → they
his or her → their
user → anyone
user → person
user → someone
users → customers
users → people


activate → turn on
administer → manage
assist → help
begin → start
complete → finish
configure → set up
customize → edit
deactivate → turn off
disable → turn off
display → show
enable → turn on
input → enter
modify → edit
notify → let you know
optimize → make it better
present → show
provide → give
provide → include
provide → show
purchase → buy
purchase → pay
receive → get
remain → stay
retain → keep
submit → send
utilize → use


able to → can
allows you to → lets you
cannot → can’t
enables you to → lets you
gives you the ability to → lets you
in order to [verb], you must [verb] → To [verb], [verb]
in order to → to
required to → need to
to be able to → to
unable to → can’t


regarding → about
regarding → for
associated with → a part of
additional → more
additional → other
additional → different
alternative → other
due to the fact → since
due to the fact → because
e.g. → like
e.g. → for example
such as → like
in lieu of → instead of
x and/or y → x, y, or both


currently → at the moment
currently → now
currently → right now
following → after
following → next
in conjunction with → at the same time
initial → first
preceding → before
simultaneously → at the same time
subsequent → future
subsequent → later
subsequent → upcoming


credentials → username and password
customizations → changes
customizations → edits
customizations → settings
methods → ways
optimization → improvement
the system → we
transaction → order
URL → link

If you don’t write for software, check out’s list of simple words and phrases for government content, and Health Research for Action’s Plain Language Word List for healthcare content.

Have any examples to add? Leave a comment!



Deanna Horton
Curiosity by Design

Lead Content Strategist at SurveyMonkey. I love helping people find what they’re looking for.