Editing UX Writing Basics

Principles of UX writing

UX writing is not a profession or expertise that everybody realises exists. For me, UX writing became a specific job when I realised that although the titles I wore mostly had “writer” or “communications advisor” in them, they weren’t quite right.

It became obvious when I was asked to justify my word choices when my answers weren’t always revolving around persuasion tactics from the copywriting or content marketing worlds. Instead, I focused on making tiny changes that would make a product, an article or a CTA easier to read, understand and act on.

At first, I simply focused on three basics principles of UX writing into my thinking. I would make sure my words had a specific goal, they’d be as short as can be and that they’d be human. I’ve always been good at making the complicated sounds simple.

But when I fell a bit deeper into the world of UX, I realised that there were a few more elements to take into consideration when you call yourself a UX writer.

You’ve got to have a consistent voice, you’ve got to be inclusive and you’ve got to think about accessibility. If you go a few steps above writing purposeful, concise and human copy, you take the words up a level from easy to understand to almost invisible.

And so, the six principles of UX writing were born. These are simply the filters that I use to help me write better copy to enhance a user’s experience.

Give your copy purpose

When writing microcopy, there needs to be a clear goal behind what you’re asking the user to read. Usually, the purpose will be defined by the designer or engineer who needs you to write some copy.

This means that for every little bit of microcopy you work on, there should be a specific goal. If there isn’t one, then it’s your job as a UX writer to ask the question “What’s this for? What will it help the user achieve? Is this information the user needs to know? Are we missing something?”

Write short(er) copy

When writing copy for apps, software and the like, we often need to use the least amount of characters possible.

Buffer looked at the ideal length different types of content to get buy-in (a click, a read, a view) from a reader. Turns out, people don’t really read anything if those first 60 characters haven’t caught their attention yet. So that’s one reason to keep it short.

But that’s not all. When you write for a product that is to be translated and localised, you need to keep in mind that most languages take more space than English does so it’s important. In those cases, you’ll need to write even shorter English text so that other languages can also be.

Humanize your copy

Your microcopy needs to be conversational enough while respecting the voice you’ve established as part of your style guide. It needs to sound like “you”.

There’s an interesting reason why sometimes it can be hard to make microcopy sound conversational and not robotic. When computers were first designed and people started using them in their home, they were a one-way tool. That’s what was referred to as Web 1.0. You go to a website to get some information. And that’s the end of it. So during the era, computers were very much seen as robots and tech tools, nothing more.

But then, Web 2.0 allowed us to start having conversations with our computers (and other people). Messaging systems, commenting on blog posts, filling out form and using apps and software to make a myriad of requests changed our use of computers and the web from being a one-sided conversation with a robot, to a conversation between two human-being, with the computer acting as the messenger.

Even though focusing on making your copy concise will help your copy become more conversational, there will be times where concise is not the right choice. Instead, the focus needs to be on making your copy sound more human, less robotic. Let go of the tech talk and explain things as if you’re talking to a 6-year-old.

Be as clear as you can

While copywriters often focusing on making the words they choose convincing, a UX writer’s goal will focus on clarity. If a user doesn’t understand what the text means, they won’t know how to use your product. Clarity is at the core of what a UX writer does.

Clear copy should align with the purpose of your brief. Do the users know what’s happening? Do they know what action they need to take? Do they know where they’ll go after that? And if they’re just waiting or in the wrong spot, now what?

Include everyone

Inclusivity is a bit of a hot topic these days. What inclusivity means is that you should write copy that is respectful of your users. It shouldn’t alienate, shame or disrespect any of the people who use your product.

In simple terms, don’t be racist, sexist or homophobic and any other “ist” word that alienates people. Don’t make fun of people’s religion, political views, economic status and so on.

Write in a way that includes as many people as possible, and if you’ve got the luxury of time to test your copy, make sure the users you select for this phase of your project are as varied as possible.

Focus on accessibility

There are two big benefits that come with accessible products. First, the more people you cater too, the more people can have access to a product and the higher your number of potential users can be. Second, the easier your product is to use, the better the user experience you’re creating is likely to be because anyone can make the most of it.

Creating an accessible digital product means that you will deliver something that caters to people of all kind, including

  • People with visual impairments
  • People with hearing impairments
  • People with low levels of literacy
  • People with low levels of digital literacy
  • Or anyone who uses a digital product differently than the norm

How to put it all together

Understanding the theory behind what each of these principles stand for a is a great start. But it’s also a lot to remember when you’ve got a developer who just wants to know which words are best for that button. And they need it yesterday.

To speed up the process, I’ve made myself a checklist of questions I can quickly run through to see if I’ve at least given it a thought.

If you’d like to get a copy of the checklist, just pop your email below and I’ll send it to you in a nano-second (Well, maybe a bit more than that depending on the speed of the interwebs…)

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