Am I Writing Great UX Copy? Ask Yourself These 7 Questions to Find Out

Driven by Code
Jan 28 · 7 min read

By: Kate Seldman

When I landed the role of Product Writer at TrueCar, I’d held several other positions that focused on capturing a brand’s voice and engaging with its audience. At TrueCar, as the sole writer on the product team, I’ve gotten the chance to really hone these skills: I write everything from registration flows to landing pages to disclaimer copy.

Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

No matter what area or aspect of our product I’m working on, I always aim to create copy that:

  • Is useful and meaningful to our customers
  • Speaks to our customers in a language and tone that resonates with them
  • Is truthful and follows our legal guidelines
  • Gets our customers to buy cars (just being real here, OK?)

To accomplish these goals, I ask myself several questions as I put words on paper (or in a Google doc, Sketch file, or Invision prototype).

Does this fit into the brand narrative? Storytelling is a powerful element of product writing: it’s one of the most compelling ways you can interact with your audience. Good storytelling literally lights up people’s brains. Whether you’re writing product descriptions, microcopy, or any other written element of your product, it’s important to keep your product’s overarching narrative in mind. Everyone in your organization should know your brand story, and everyone should work together to tell that story — especially the writers. Here’s part of TrueCar’s story:

Our cars are daily companions where we dream, make plans, and prepare to bring our best to the day ahead. TrueCar exists to create a world where shopping for a car is uplifting. The TrueCar experience is personal. It feels smart. TrueCar helps you consider choices from every angle — your needs, desires, budget — all with a clear view of what’s an honest and good deal.

I write copy to support this narrative through every part of the car-buying journey, from a car shopper’s initial idea of their dream car, to building their ideal car and viewing local inventory, all the way through to their connection with a dealer, finalizing of payment options, and scheduling their test drive. I also keep in mind how our brand story should make the shopper feel: excited, empowered, supported, and informed.

Alex Turnbull at GrooveHQ has several great strategies for incorporating your brand narrative into your copy.

Are my word choices consistent? It’s important to establish a vocabulary for your product, and to be consistent about using those words. Asaf Shahar at UX Writing Hub puts it this way: “Consistency, in UX writing, means a set style of language…throughout an interface.” Consistency is important for two reasons. First, it makes it easier for customers to understand what to do on your site. For example, when a TrueCar shopper is looking to purchase a new vehicle, they choose a make and model, then use our Styles Builder to specify the options they want for their vehicle. We use the word style to mean a set of special features above and beyond the features of an entry-level vehicle: for example, a Subaru Outback Touring has heated front and rear seats, whereas an entry-level Subaru Outback does not. The word trim is generally synonymous with style, but we stick to style rather than also using trim, a word that some shoppers might not know has the same meaning, and that might confuse them as to what preferences they’re setting on this part of the site.

Second, using a specific vocabulary helps keep your voice and tone consistent. At TrueCar, we use the word vehicle as an overarching term for cars, trucks, and SUVs. It’s a straightforward way of describing our site’s focus. If you then use the slang term ride in the same context, it might sound a little jarring and not in keeping with our general vocabulary.

Different teams within the same organization can sometimes make slightly different word choices. You wouldn’t necessarily use the same words to guide a user through registration as you would in a social ad. But you can’t stray too far from the agreed-upon vocabulary, or you might risk confusing users. And the overarching tone, just like the overarching story, needs to be well defined, and used consistently. Which brings me to the next question:

Am I using the right voice and tone? When TrueCar rebranded, we decided that our brand voice would be:

  1. Smart
  2. Straightforward
  3. Optimistic
  4. Empowering
  5. Assured
  6. Empathetic

As I write copy, I try to keep these elements of our brand voice in mind. Headlines like “Control Your Car-Buying Experience” let shoppers know, in a straightforward way, that TrueCar empowers them in their journey to purchase the vehicle they want. If this same headline read “You Might Get an Epic Whip at TrueCar,” for example, it wouldn’t match our brand voice; it might sound optimistic, but it’s not assured, straightforward, or empowering, nor is it really smart.

Likewise, our tone needs to mesh well with our voice, but still change slightly when appropriate. For example, this Flip Script Media article emphasizes the importance of changing your tone depending on the situation you’re writing for. If you’re guiding the user through an important and possibly stressful process (their example is purchasing insurance), then you want to be direct, concise, and serious. If the user is visiting the site when it’s down for maintenance, however, you might want to use a little humor to lighten the mood — as we do here.

Am I writing for our audience? While keeping your brand voice in mind, you also need to write for your audience — most likely, you were thinking about them when you designed your brand voice in the first place. Oliver Lindberg at the Shopify blog says a good UX writer empathizes with and advocates for their audience. That’s a great way to explain the writer-audience relationship.

But who is your audience? That’s a question for your organization’s research department. At TrueCar, we focus on two somewhat different audiences. Confident Enthusiasts are generally on the younger side, enjoy adventure and challenge, and view vehicle shopping as a fun game. Responsible Shoppers skew older, are more family-centered, and see buying a vehicle as somewhat stressful. Depending on what copy I’m writing, I focus on one or both of these audiences and try to see our product through their eyes. I write copy that helps them get where they need to go — if you’ll excuse a TrueCar writer using a driving-related metaphor.

Once you’ve written for your audience, it’s then important to check if they are responding to your words in the way you’d like them to. Testing is important, but it’s also crucial that you test in the right way, or you may not get useful results. Again, this is where your organization’s research department will be helpful. Patrick Stafford at UX Writing Collective explains several ways UX writers can incorporate testing data into their work.

Am I celebrating the right aspects of the product?

Until I came to TrueCar and worked with our awesome product managers, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of using copy to celebrate user actions. As Julia Chen at Appcues says, “Celebrating a completed task signals to users that what they’ve just done matters.” You don’t necessarily need to use the party-popper emoji, but you should find some way to signify that the user has completed something important. The word “Done” is powerful — everyone likes to check things off their to-do list and mark them as done. Or you can restate the task: “You just connected to a TrueCar Certified Dealer with 123 matching vehicles!” At TrueCar, because our mission is to make car buying easy, we celebrate actions including connecting to dealers, finding a great deal, or getting extra savings and incentives.

Am I writing to legal constraints? Whatever field you’re in, it’s always important to write according to legal guidelines — which should include being honest and straightforward about your product. At TrueCar, our lawyer advises us to keep the following questions in mind when writing copy:

  • Is this statement literally true?
  • If yes, is the statement non-misleading, even though it is true?

You may also be tasked with writing legal disclaimers. You’ll most likely collaborate with a lawyer to craft these messages. That doesn’t mean that disclaimers need to be dense, wordy legalese. Some wording might need to stay exactly as is, to preserve its legal meaning, but you can still strive to make the rest of it as friendly and reassuring as possible. It may feel awkward to push back against legal disclaimers, but most lawyers aren’t also professional writers. You and your organization’s legal team share the goal of clarifying complicated guidelines to customers, so it makes sense for you, as the writer, to incorporate brand voice and narrative while also ensuring that each disclaimer is clear and concise. Bree Hoskins and Ailie McAleenan discuss the art of creating helpful disclaimers in this presentation from the UX Australia conference.

Am I collaborating with my coworkers?

This may seem obvious, but a good product writer focuses on the goals of each coworker or team who needs copy, and collaborates with them to meet those goals. For example, I work with product managers who aim to celebrate various aspects of the car-buying experience; UX designers who create vehicle inventory “cards” that needed microcopy highlighting the features of each vehicle; and our marketing team, to craft value props that clearly and compellingly state the benefits of buying a vehicle with TrueCar. I hear what they need from me, and use the above questions to help me write copy that meets those needs. The more closely you collaborate with your coworkers, the better chance you have of creating a positive user experience.

It may seem daunting to keep all these questions in mind simultaneously when writing copy, but only when you view them as separate from each other. I prefer to think of them as pieces of the same whole: copy can be consistent and empathetic, legally airtight and celebratory. You can use these questions to create copy that engages and informs your audience — and, in turn, connects them more deeply with your product.

We are hiring! If you love solving problems, please reach out. We would love to have you join us!

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