Best practices in UX writing, as told by the 8 C’s

UX writing is much more than filling in the blanks. Writers collaborate closely with design, product, business, data, research, marketing, compliance, and legal to address user pain points while simultaneously hitting business targets. In order to do so, writers ensure that customer-facing messaging meets the fundamentals of effective UX writing.

1. Is it concise? (shortest way to clearly convey a message)
Conciseness enhances communication by ridding sentences of superfluous words. Each word must earn its place on the screen. Writing concise sentences require a lot of time. Oftentimes, conciseness is misunderstood for short sentences. UI copy needs to be concise but should never sacrifice clarity. If adding information clarifies and reinforces a message, redundancy may solve that problem.

2. Is it clear? (people know what to expect when they read it)
Clarity helps users guide themselves through a task seamlessly. For some, English isn’t necessarily their primary language so writing clearly is essential. I prefer not to say “dumbing down” because people of all literacy levels appreciate good writing. Clear copy is easier to localize because less time is spent trying to understand what it means.

3. Is it conversational? (sounds like talking to a person)
Historically, we’ve been conversing longer than we’ve been writing. Conversational content helps us tell engaging stories. This is especially important in tricky circumstances such as error messaging or delivering difficult news. Finally, being conversational allows companies to respect their relationships with their customer, especially if they’ve been loyal for a long time.

4. Is it consistent? (same pattern across experiences)
Consistency builds trust. Customers can switch from one device to another without feeling like it’s a disaggregated landscape. Sometimes, consistency is used as a justification from trying something new. Maintaining a unified experience is surely important but it’s also critical to reevaluate the effectiveness of existing patterns and make changes if it’s not meeting the user’s needs.

5. Is it contextual? (appropriate for the circumstances around the journey)
Content doesn’t exist in isolation. If we follow the users’ existing mental models and explain why they are where they are in the context of their lives, we can alleviate a lot of cognitive load and allow them to complete tasks without friction. We don’t want our users to click through a flow mindlessly but instead, they should feel empowered by fully understanding the implications of their actions.

6. Is it coherent? (messaging follows a natural and logical flow)
Any experience we design should make users feel like they’re the protagonist of the journey. Making messages coherent takes into consideration information hierarchy, while using writing techniques such as alliteration and assonance to thread ideas together. Users, however, have very different definitions of logic so it’s crucial to test  validate whether the content makes sense.

7. Is it customer-centric? (content that puts their needs at the top)
Many companies have diverse customer bases that spans all around the world, which means that there will be all types of user needs. When writing customer-centric copy, we have to think about embedding compassion into the messaging we deliver. By doing so, we’re telling our customers that we’re putting their needs at the forefront and that they can trust us.

8. Is it compliant? (language that adheres to regulations)
Being innovative becomes challenging when working in highly regulated industries such as finance and healthcare. Writing truthful messages should be the highest priority. We have to take into consideration all the possible ways that it can be misinterpreted and address it. Even though it’s important to write clearly, it’s also necessary to write to avoid getting into legal trouble.

….plus 4 dishonorable mentions of the worst UX writing sins:

9. Is it confusing? (people aren’t sure what something means)
Oftentimes, copy starts out confusing because we’re used to a certain way of speaking to each other internally. We use language that is familiar to each other but not to our customers. It’s okay to start out this way. But it’s up to us to refine the messaging so that the language is accessible to all types of people. When we use complicated language (intentional or not) it really sounds like we are trying to hide something.

10. Is it condescending? (sounds like we’re talking down to people)
We don’t want to sound like we’re critiquing nor judging the user. Sometimes, we write things without actually thinking about the interpretation and more often than not, it’s very likely to be interpreted harshly. There’s also intentional writing that deliberately shames the user so that we get them to do something. For example, subscription opt out language oftentimes sounds condescending.

11. Is it convoluted? (unnecessarily complicated messaging)
Humans are logical creatures (even though it doesn’t seem as so) and process information in a certain way. They also have a way of thinking, which is called mental models. When messaging is presented in a way that’s convoluted, it’s too much work for users to untangle the language. The brain works way too hard to try and understand and ends up becoming confused. This will lead to frustration and abandonment.

12. Is it clever? (overly too witty, playful, humorous with the messaging)
For some brands, using a witty and playful tone is appropriate but it’s better to not play too much with the language in UI. Some examples might include error messages like “Whoopsie-daisy, the system is having a moment. Just smash that refresh button and we’re good to go!” Humor is risky to use without a defined content style guide so the safer option is to be straightforward and clear.

Usually, the output of any UX writer is simple-sounding copy that goes on the screen. This doesn’t discount, however, the complexity of this discipline. There’s a lot to consider when writing a product narrative and working with designers to make sure that all of the communication requirements are represented in the best way. But by bringing writers early into the product development process, we have the opportunity to design a great experience.




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