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UX Writing and Microcopy: Crafting Succinct Instructions and Messages

The text users encounter across interfaces profoundly impacts their experience. Thoughtful microcopy provides clarity for completing tasks and interacting with digital products fluently.

This comprehensive guide explores proven UX writing techniques to craft succinct, scannable, and useful instructions, tooltips, form labels, notifications, emails, and other microcontent. We’ll cover writing for mobile, internationalization, tone, accessibility, and optimizing workflows.

Let’s ensure your product copy guides users seamlessly!

Why Microcopy Matters

Interface text often gets treated as a design afterthought. But optimizing language improves experiences by:

  • Increasing comprehension of features and capabilities
  • Reducing confusion around workflows and options
  • Building trust and relationship through clear, empathetic communication
  • Helping users complete tasks successfully
  • Lowering cognitive load through easily scannable content
  • Boosting findability of hidden features through descriptions
  • Creating inclusive access for all literacy proficiencies
  • Reinforcing brand personality consistently
  • Streamlining localization and translation needs

With so many small but mighty communication touchpoints across interfaces, crafting human-centered microcopy deserves focus. Let’s explore how.

Impactful Microcopy Opportunities

Microcopy spans the entire product usage lifecycle. Prioritize these high-impact areas:

Tooltips

Helper text explaining features helps acquaint users.

Tutorials / Walkthroughs

Intro guides onboard users by demonstrating workflows.

Forms / Surveys

Clear explanations and guidelines improve completion.

Validation Messages

Friendly error handling guides proper input.

Empty States

Unused interfaces benefit from tips guiding next steps.

###Emails

Well-written, personalized emails nurture customers.

Push Notifications

Timely, relevant notifications re-engage users.

Confirmations

Notices reassure users of completed actions.

Feature Descriptions

Short snippets explain capabilities for discovery.

Continually refine microcopy during the design process to complement interfaces.

Optimizing Microcopy for Scanning

Because users don’t read word-for-word, employ techniques optimizing quick comprehension:

Favor Short, Direct Phrasing

Concise language enables fast scanning without losing meaning.

Use Active Voice

Active voice clearly indicates who is performing each action. Passive slows understanding.

Avoid Jargon and Technical Terms When Possible

Plain language makes instructions accessible to all audiences. Explain acronyms.

Write Numerically When Applicable

“You have 3 files remaining” reads quicker than “You have three files remaining.”

Break Up Dense Text

Short paragraphs, lists, and whitespace make long instructions skimmable.

Apply Consistent Style and Formatting

Consistent patterns like bolding improve scanability once learned.

Front-load Key Information

Lead with most important details. Users often read just first and last sentences.

Signposting through formatting, density, and sequencing enhances findability.

Guidelines for Clear Microcopy

Beyond scanning, follow principles for clarity:

Use Simple, Common Words

Avoid complex vocabulary. Let core meaning shine.

Choose Specific, Literal Words

“View your courses” is more explicit than “See your stuff”.

Explain Benefits Simply

“Automatic saving ensures you’ll never lose work” conveys utility directly.

Use Consistent Terminology

Refer to features, buttons, and navigation consistently everywhere.

Give Just Enough Information

Be succinct but ensure instructions contain what’s needed to take action.

Write Conversationally

Use natural language suited for friendly advice. Don’t be overly stiff.

Consider All Audiences

Avoid idioms and pop culture references that confuse non-native speakers and accessibility technology.

Concise. Literal. Helpful. Microcopy succeeds by delivering simply what users need – no more, no less.

UX Writing for Mobile Devices

On smaller screens, writing becomes even more critical:

Use Short Single-Line Sentences

Avoid line breaks requiring scrolling on short screens. Be ultra tight.

Minimize Data Entry

Reduce typing needs by personalizing and filling known info like names or locations automatically.

Include Contextual Help

With limited real estate, add just-in-time instructions at moments of need.

Personalize Dynamic Content

Welcome users, reference past behaviors, and customize messaging to build relationships in short bursts.

Link to Deeper Explanations

Provide easy paths to extended help articles for deeper dives when needed.

Make CTA Buttons Descriptive

Self-explanatory button labels like “Learn More” reduce guesswork on small screens.

Test Mobile-First

Design mobile experiences first. Desktop has higher tolerance for friction.

Writing concisely and contextually streamlines mobile usage.

Microcopy and Internationalization

When localizing UI text, optimize for translation needs:

Avoid Untranslatable Idioms

“Killing two birds with one stone” proves difficult for non-English speakers. Use literal phrases.

Standardize Components Like Dates and Times

Consistent date and address formats simplify swapping localized versions.

Write Short Modular Strings

Brief standalone snippets surrounded by tags, rather than running paragraphs, ease recombination by translators.

Use Simple Sentence Structures

Complex long-form sentences often translate inaccurately. Simplify grammar.

Enable Right-to-Left Layouts

Account for right-aligned languages requiring text direction change.

A/B Test Translations

Compare different translator’s versions to find most natural fit with each localized audience.

Plan for adaptation across global markets early on.

UX Tone, Voice, and Personality

Copywriting choices define brand character:

Know Your Audience

Align tone, formality, and vocabulary appropriately to each product’s demographics. Avoid one-size-fits-all.

Stand for Quality

Reflect your brand pillars like trustworthiness, innovation, or simplicity consistently in language choices.

Be Conversational Yet Professional

Address users informally but not unprofessionally. Find the right personality balance.

Guide Gently

Take an encouraging tone orienting users positively, not scolding them harshly for mistakes.

Use Familiar Cultural References Judiciously

Leverage relatable moments sparingly but be careful not to exclude international users without broader context.

Allow Brand Self-Expression

Insert occasional tasteful humor, wit, or warmth within boundaries of professionalism.

Microcopy carries tremendous influence as the written embodiment of your brand. Define voice carefully.

UX Writing Accessibility

Optimizing text aids disabled users:

Write Clearly and Simply

Lowergrade reading level opens usage to wider audiences. Complexity causes comprehension issues.

Provide Text Alternatives

Thorough descriptions of all interface elements are essential for screen readers.

Give Sufficient Color Contrast

Low contrast between text and background fails visibility standards.

Make Links, Headings, Lists Visible

Proper bolding, underlining, and hierarchy helps navigation and context.

Describe Images and Media in Text

Transcribe or explain video and graphic content nearby to support gaps in perception.

Focus on scannability

Well-formatted, tight text enables quick processing for those challenged by dense blocks.

Adapt copy to aid diverse abilities without compromising quality.

Iteratively Editing and Testing Microcopy

Refine copy through feedback:

Collaborate Across Teams

Gather input from Support, Sales, and Customer Success on real-world language needed.

Conduct User Interviews

Discuss whether phrasing resonates with new users during onboarding.

A/B Test Wording Choices

Try variations on help documentation or in-app messaging to see if certain phrasing performs better.

Observe Usability Tests

Note confusing interactions during first-hand observation and fix instructions accordingly.

Study Support Tickets and Calls

If consistent user problems arise, rework related copy to better set expectations.

Continuously Improve Help Documentation

Treat help as an evolving knowledge base, not a one-and-done document.

Small copy changes influence big outcomes. Optimizing language never ends.

UX Writing Checklist

When reviewing microcopy, consider:

🔎 Is purpose and utility clearly conveyed?

🔎 Will terminology make sense to diverse audiences?

🔎 Is content optimized for quick scanning?

🔎 Is phrasing fully accurate and free from ambiguity?

🔎 Does tone and voice align to brand identity and user expectations?

🔎 Is language inclusive and accessible for disabilities?

🔎 Is text concise yet comprehensive?

🔎 Are calls-to-action, links and requirements descriptively written?

🔎 Is there an opportunity to enhance confidence or reduce anxiety?

Continuously scrutinize details – even minor text improvements unlock big wins.

Key Benefits of Refined Microcopy

Optimizing the small but constant text users encounter guides experiences positively through:

  • Reduced confusion around capabilities and options
  • Streamlined workflows through clear direction
  • Improved findability and accessibility
  • Reinforced brand personality and professionalism
  • Increased user delight through frictionless interactions
  • Higher success rates completing tasks unblocked
  • Stronger internationalization adapting to global markets
  • Deeper user trust and willingness to share data

With so many micro-moments, your brand hinges on cumulative small touches. So take time honing language, consult users, and test variations measured against meaningful metrics.

Though often overlooked, crafted microcopy looms large influencing how people relate to and operate products. So choose words meticulously, purposefully, empathetically. Soon effortless interactions will speak for themselves.

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By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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