Where do your notifications come from, and how are they created? What about fitness alerts or error messages that pop up when you type in a wrong password?
The truth is, most people don’t give a lot of thought to this. They’re all just there, right?
But think about what would happen if these notifications are gone or defective. It would certainly be much harder to use an app, website, or any other digital product.
For this reason, all the copy that you see when navigating a platform requires careful planning and a great deal of effort. It’s the part and parcel of user experience (UX) writing.
In this guide, you’ll see why UX microcopy writing is one of the most important digital trends today. You’ll also learn how to get it right and reap the many benefits.
But first, let’s see what UX writing is all about and debunk some of the common myths.
What Is UX Writing?
When using any software, you encounter messages, instructions, and strings of text in menus and buttons. As opposed to the copy seen in ads, these are known as UX microcopy. And UX writing is the process of creating that microcopy.
In the same fashion that serious ad agencies retain a bevy of copywriters, microcopy is the realm of a new class of specialist writers.
What Does a UX Copywriter Do?
To create the microcopy, a user experience writer must know the intended platform inside out. They need to ensure that every string of text helps the user navigate through the software smoothly and without confusion. What’s more, the writer must create microcopy that’s user-friendly, concise, and on-brand.
To do this, UX content writers conduct thorough research. They need to understand their audience to see what kind of microcopy would suit them.
Once they have all the correct data, the writers liaise with the developers to create microcopy that will improve the overall user experience. And if they do a good job, UX copywriters can add incredible value to your digital product.
Why Powerful Microcopy Matters
In the online world that we live in, user experience is everything.
Your customers share their experience with you so that you can improve your product. More importantly, they share their experience with others. And this can be the difference between free promotion and a bad reputation.
With this in mind, it’s safe to say that good UX writing can make your users happy and your product much more valuable. Here’s how:
1. It Humanizes Your Product
Microcopy is the language of your platform. It’s the way your software interacts and connects with the user. And people want to feel a connection.
Good microcopy ensures that your product advises, comforts, and encourages people. Depending on your goals, it can do much more.
The proper microcopy can turn a dry error message into a helpful friend. For example, if you type in a wrong password, would you rather see:
“Error: Incorrect password.”
“Password doesn’t match. Please have another go!”
Just from reading these two sentences, you can feel why the latter is more inviting. By humanizing your product, UX microcopy can trigger positive feelings about it. Which takes us to the next point.
2. It Encourages People to Use the Product More
Let’s say you’ve installed a fitness tracker. Will you remember to check it regularly to see your progress?
But what if the app would remind you or congratulate you on achieving a goal?
You’d be much more likely to use it then. And this alone is a great reason to get your microcopy right.
It’ll remind the users to check in every once in a while, and maybe do it in a way that they can’t refuse. Alerts, notification, and other reminders make your product stay at the front of people’s minds. As a result, your customers are less likely to switch to a competitor.
3. It Calls to the Right Action
CTA (Call to Action) copy is one of the essential forms of UX writing. While the design of the CTA button matters, what’s written on it matters even more.
Look no further than Google.
When searching for hotels on the platform in the past, users would see a “Book a room” button. Simple, punchy, and to the point.
But it came to Google’s attention that there’s something wrong with the microcopy. Namely, it jumped too far ahead.
The thing is, people who browse hotels on Google aren’t ready to book. They only want to see what’s out there.
Knowing this, Google changed the CTA microcopy to “Check availability.” And this small change resulted in a 17% increase in engagement.
These nuances that escape the unaware are the reason why UX writing is often a challenge. But they’re also the reason why effective microcopy can open up a world of opportunities.
As you can see, there are many reasons to turn your attention to microcopy writing. Better yet, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
But you can only achieve these results if you step up your UX writing. Let’s see how to do it.
How to Write UX Microcopy that Speaks to Your Users
You’ve seen how UX writing works in theory. Now it’s time to focus on the practice.
If you want to write microcopy that makes your product as a whole more enjoyable to use, here are the rules you should follow:
1. Ask the Right Questions
As mentioned, research is often the toughest part of UX writing. You shouldn’t start writing any microcopy before you’ve done your homework.
For the most part, this boils down to asking yourself what problems your microcopy needs to solve.
Is it instructional for the onboarding of new users? Or maybe it needs to boost engagement through human connections.
In most cases, there will be more than one correct answer. UX writing needs to improve the overall experience that your users have, and this can mean different things. Therefore, before you start writing your microcopy, make sure that you have clear goals in place.
2. Find Your Voice
Your brand voice is at the core of everything you do – your product, content, customer service, and all other aspects of your business. It needs to express your brand’s personality and core values. If it’s not consistent, your brand voice will create confusion. And confusion is the exact issue that UX writing needs to tackle.
Once you’ve defined your voice, what’s left is to find a way to translate it into microcopy. And that’s something that a good UX content writer should be able to do.
3. Know Your Audience
Remember the wrong password example from before? Let’s compare two more options:
“Your password is incorrect. Please try again.”
“Oops, your password doesn’t match! Give it another whirl!”
Which of these options do you think is better?
This is a trick question – the answer is neither.
It’s all about the person who reads the message. If your platform is a quirky social media app aimed at Gen Z, then the second message could work. But if it’s an accounting platform for blue-chip companies, it could be seen as impertinent. In this case, the first option would be much more appropriate.
When writing microcopy, always think about whom it needs to serve. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and see what kind of language would appeal to them most.
4. Keep It Simple
The goal of UX writing is to make everything as simple as possible for the user. Your microcopy needs to be straightforward and unobtrusive. Its only purpose is to support your users and create a natural experience.
What does this mean?
It means no five-dollar words that belong in an academic paper. No matter how much you prefer a phrase, you should always go with a simpler alternative.
Sure, it may seem a bit dull. But dull always beats incoherent when it comes to microcopy. There are more than enough ways to get creative with your platform, so keep your microcopy to the point.
These are some general rules that you’ll want to follow for creating a smooth user experience. But the devil is in the detail. Let’s go over some small things that can make a big difference.
7 Tips for Making Your UX Microcopy More Effective
The Google example we mentioned in one of the previous sections shows how seemingly minor changes can have outsized results.
Those who understand how microcopy works know the nuances that can transform user experience. If you want to do the same, here are some quick tips that can supercharge your UX writing.
1. Focus on the Positive
Nobody likes to hear that they can’t do something, so your microcopy should never focus on restrictions.
On the contrary, you must put a positive twist on the message and show the user what they can do instead.
Instead of writing:
“You can’t upload a PDF file.”
Try something like:
“You can upload JPEG, JPG, and GIF files.”
2. Use Numerals
Your English composition teacher might have asked you to spell out single-digit numbers, but microcopy is an exception.
Again, it’s about simplicity and ease of use. It’s easier for the brain to register “3” than “three,” which allows the user to read the message more effortlessly.
3. Refer to the User as “You”…
Your platform needs to talk directly to the user. This creates a more personal connection like the user is having a conversation with the platform.
For example, “Your account” sounds more personal than “User Account.” It impresses upon the user that the platform is tailored to them over just any user.
4. …But Use “I” When the User Is Making a Decision
When using your software, a user should feel like they’re actively making a choice than agreeing to one.
This approach is especially important when it comes to privacy policies and the terms and conditions.
For example, instead of:
“By checking this box, you agree to accept cookies.”
You should use:
“I accept cookies.”
5. Eliminate Unnecessary Words
This rule doesn’t apply to instructional microcopy that needs to help the user figure out the inner workings of the app. Rather, it mainly applies to snap decisions, options, and confirmations.
Instead of using:
“Do you want to delete this message?” and “The message has been deleted.”
You should use:
“Delete this message?” and “Message deleted.”
7. Use the Active Voice
Generally speaking, the passive voice can make the reader less interested in what they read. This is especially true for UX writing.
Not only can a passive voice construction bore the user, but it might also discourage the user from taking action. While this is more on a subconscious level, it can still make a big difference as a whole. It’s better to play it safe and always use active voice.
5 Common UX Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
The above-stated rules apply to the technical side of UX writing. But what about the actual content?
Unfortunately, many online platforms can’t get it right and regularly commit costly microcopy mistakes. To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, here’s what you should steer away from:
1. Presenting Problems without Solutions
“Oops, something has gone wrong.”
Have you ever received a message like this? You already know how frustrating it can be.
If a user can’t complete the desired action, it’s clear that “something has gone wrong.” The microcopy’s task is to specify what’s gone wrong and suggest a solution.
Otherwise, the user might just give up and stop using your platform. They’ll feel like you don’t care enough to solve the problem, or worse, you don’t know how.
The least that you should do with your error messages is to add a link to the “Help” page. That’ll help the user to resolve the issue on their own.
Of course, it’s always better to clarify what they need to do when the message pops up. But if this isn’t possible, don’t leave the user hanging. Present the mistake as accurately as you can and show that you’re willing to help.
2. “Confirm Shaming” Your Users
To better manipulate the users, some brands use passive-aggressive microcopy in pop-ups. You might see an offer to download an e-book on how to get rich presented with two options:
“Get the book.”
“No thanks, I like being poor.”
Brands employ this tactic with the belief that it will make people change their minds. But in the vast majority of cases, this is more likely to alienate than to persuade the user.
Stay away from this behavior in your microcopy. UX copy shouldn’t serve as a marketing tool, let alone a manipulative one.
3. Using Jargon and Slangs
When writing your microcopy, you might feel compelled to use technical language. Some brands use this to build credibility. They think that jargon will make them appear more professional.
But it won’t. And even if it does, that’s not the point of UX writing. Instead, you must present everything in a way that people who use your platform for the first time can easily understand.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should go to the extreme of using slangs. While it might sound more informal, there will be those who can’t understand what you’re saying, clearly or at all.
For this reason, always keep one question in mind when writing your microcopy:
“Will someone who’s never seen anything like this understand it?”
Unless the answer is “yes,” you might want to rephrase the copy.
4. Making Disruptive Changes
Your microcopy shouldn’t be set in stone. As your platform’s features change, so should the copy. Plus, there’s always something that you can do to improve the microcopy, such as making it punchier.
When you decide to make a change, it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul. You can change only some of the copy. If you’re not careful, however, this can have a ripple effect that confuses your users.
Always keep in mind that no action on your platform is isolated. Changing a string of text might change the context of the old microcopy. To prevent this, check your microcopy regularly for possible confusions, paying attention to how the different actions flow with one another.
5. Not Branding Effectively
As mentioned, your microcopy needs to reflect your brand voice. The last thing you need is to have a bunch of generic copy that your users have seen many times before.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t overbrand microcopy that offers valuable information, such as:
- Instructional text
- Selection text
In contrast, it’s safe to add your personal touches to:
- Error messages
- 404 pages
Find that branding sweet spot that will distinguish your product without going overboard. Also, don’t get too creative when delivering crucial information, which should be delivered clearly and helpfully.
Small Words, Big Difference
There you have it! Now that you know how UX writing works, take what you’ve learned and apply it to your platform. If you get it right, you can expect significant improvements.
Don’t underestimate the effects and power of even the slightest changes. The best thing about microcopy is that changing a single word can sometimes produce great results.
Also, feel free to experiment. UX microcopy is easy to test, usually through A/B testing. You can compare the performance of different versions of copy and choose whichever improves your user experience the most. Do it regularly to keep your users happy and engaged.