Behind every great UX stands a great UX writer…

…the same way great writing is at the heart of every great interface. By choosing the right words, voice and tone for our product’s messaging, and by being concise and precise, good UX writing resolves issues, builds loyalty, trust and relationships.

Writing Inclusive, Accessible Products

Whatever you write, read it out loud.

Just like when sometimes you have an idea, or a reply in your mind, which ends up sounding ridiculous when said out loud, the same might happen with your writing. Listening to what you have typed will help you catch mistakes such as misused words, or the wrong tone.

The overarching goal of UX copywriting is usability: the words need to make sense to whoever reads them – applying personality is secondary, and at times not necessary or even discouraged. When writing for products, listening to the messaging provides better insight into how they it sounds when using a screen reader, therefore catering for accessibility.

Digital product design is always targeted to revolve around one word: user – whether it’s user experience, user testing or user research. Inclusive and accessible UX writing contributes to that goal by making users feel that they belong; whatever kind of user they might be.

There are several other factors that put empathy in UX writing:

1. Clarity

Simple words and short sentences are the essence of good UX writing. Creativity is secondary: make sure that your primary aim is to be understood. Providing explanations for acronyms and using punctuation correctly and only when required are top factors. Being clear is far more important than being witty.

UX writing is not advertising. Focusing on the witty side of content will very likely compromise understanding and usability.
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2. It’s not the same for everyone

User needs and emotions could vary drastically for the same flow in the same product. Let’s take a look at this scenario: two users are both booking a two-night stay in Cologne, Germany in December. One might be really looking forward to the trip – she is going with her husband to the Xmas markets; however the other might be extremely worried, as he is visiting his hospitalised friend. When you are creating your UX copy, never presume the emotional status of the user in any given situation.

Pregnancy is indeed something to celebrate – unless not getting pregnant was the user’s sole reason for using the product.
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3. Be careful with those placeholders

Placeholder text is a very helpful visual aid that guides the users as to what kind of information is expected from them. If we consider marketing practices, using the right words in a placeholder could be the nudge the user needs to start a sale or to sign up, for example. However, placeholders in terms of sensitive personal data such gender, race, health and wealth should never be suggestive.

3. CTAs should be transparent

When writing CTA text, it is not the time to have character. Simply provide clear and concise actions for the user to choose from, and be transparent about it. What the users see is what they should get when they press the CTA – should the button take them somewhere other than specified, or should it simply not work as its label suggests, that is where customer trust is lost.

The options given in this notification dialog are very clear. This is especially required as the action in this scenario is non-reversible,
The options given in this notification dialog are very clear. Especially required as the action in this scenario is non-reversible.
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3. Plain is best

Just like a website should preferably make sense in HTML, same goes for the UX copy. If the meaning of your message rests on certain formatting – such as bold, or a specific colour – in order to make sense to the user, then it needs rethinking.

3. Make your UX copy responsive

Digital products are available on multiple platforms and devices, and that is where responsive design comes in. The same goes for your UX writing; it needs to be responsive in multiple ways:

  • Consideration of the different interactions with the device UI – if it’s on a phone, the word ‘click’ does not apply anymore.
  • Consider the length – short and concise is always preferred; think about how smaller fields become on a phone and look again at those field labels and error messages you typed up.
  • The UI does not require explanation – first of all, if the UX copywriter has to direct users where to click, that is real bad news for the UI designer. UX copy should never provide directions, as the same message is going to be used on a responsive layout which moves elements around as it fits onto the devices the users are accessing it with – not to mention that directions make no sense for those using a screen reader.
The word 'choose' instead of 'click' or 'tap' makes it the neutral choice that works on all devices.
The word ‘choose’ instead of ‘click’ or ‘tap’ makes it the neutral choice that works on all devices.
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3. Add alt text and captions.

UX writing has also a backstage role when it comes to alt text for images. An image cannot be translated into words by the screen reader, therefore if it is important to the user’s experience do not forget to add relevant, descriptive alt text – which also gives extra power points in terms of SEO. Videos are also primarily visual, so think inclusively by adding subtitles.

Wordpress provides an Alt Text box for each image you upload on your website. Use it!

WordPress provides an Alt Text box for each image you upload on your website. Use it!

Need some help with your UX copywriting?

1. The UX copy generator

Speak Human is great for inspiration emergencies. Sometimes we just get stuck in what to write for confirmation messages, respectful interruptions and gentle reminders.

The tool is purpose driven: you choose what you have in mind from the categories, and the generator suggests a user-centric microcopy — asking for emails and coming up with witty selling statements has become easier.

A screenshot of Speak Human website.
A screenshot of Speak Human website.

 2. Your copywriting assistant

UI Copy is an Adobe plugin that can help you get rid of the not-much-loved lorem ipsum when presenting to clients, and also to inspire you and give you ideas when there is a lot of content to write. It tailors content to your product’s tone and voice in order to maintain brand consistency.

3. There for your emails

Good Email Copy is an online tool that picks you up when you are stuck in writing email copy. It provides tried and tested samples used by big companies such as Slack and Zendesk, through which you can browse and search according to your needs. Furthermore, anyone can add witty email copy to the collection; one can say that the better you give, the better results you’ll get.

4. Insight and further learning

UX writing might not be the most popular in the field of User Experience, however The UX Writing Library shows that there is a lot of material and new skills to learn and become a better UX writer. Curated by Kinneret Yifrah – a professional UX writer himself – the library has everything: books, blogs, podcasts and events; anything to inspire UX copywriters to stay at the top of their game.

A screenshot of The UX Writing Library website.
A screenshot of The UX Writing Library website.

In Conclusion

Inclusive and accessible UX writing welcomes all kinds of users and leaves no one out: it considers those who have English as a secondary language, those who base their understanding of a phrase on its background colour, those with limited vocabulary, those who need to zoom in to read better, those who can only hear what is typed. Be human in your writing; show respect and steer clear of any sort of reference to ableism, racism, sexism, and stereotypes. Be an empathetic UX writer, and write for all the people out there.