16 Basic Rules of Effective UX Writing

UX writing is the practice of crafting UX copy that guides users within a product and helps them interact with it. UX copy includes buttons and menu labels, error messages, security notes, terms, and conditions, as well as any instructions on product usage.
The primary aim of UX writing is to settle communication between users and a digital product. In this article, I’ll provide some practical tips on effective UX writing.

Why crafting UI text should be an integral part of the design process

All too often product developers think of UX text as something that belongs to product documentation phase.”First, we’ll design the product, and then we’ll hire someone to help us write a UI copy.” Such assumptions often cause a lot of harm because critical UX issues can go unnoticed until the later stages of the product development process. That’s why UX text should be written earlier in the process.

Professional UX writers should work together with software developers and designers on crafting UX text. As a part of this activity, they often ask the product team to explain design decisions. If a team has trouble explaining a design, quite often it is the design, not the text copy, that needs improving.

Tips On Writing UX Text

Writing the copy that is part of the UX design is both an art and a science. While it’s impossible to provide universal rules for writing UX text, it’s possible to provide some general rules that can help you create better UX.
Concise doesn’t mean limited; it means something closer to efficient. Use as few words as possible without losing the meaning. When writing concisely, we make sure every word on the screen has a job. 
Don’t: You must log in before you can write a comment
Do: Log in to comment
When using a product, users aren’t immersed in the user interface itself but in their work. Consequently, users don’t read UX text, they scan it. Help them scan the text by writing it in short, scannable blocks. Chunk text into shorter sentences and paragraphs. Keep the most important text upfront and then ruthlessly edit what comes after it.
Double negatives increase cognitive load, they make users spend extra time decoding the message.
Don’t: I do not want to unsubscribe
When a sentence describes an objective and the action needed to achieve it, start the sentence with the objective.
Don’t: Tap on an item to see it’s properties
Do: To see item’s properties, tap on it
Specific verbs (such as connect or save) are more meaningful to users than generic ones (such as configure or manage).
Inconsistency creates confusion. One typical example of inconsistency is replacing a word with a synonym in a different part of the UX. For instance, if you decide to call the process of arranging something “Scheduling” in one part of UX do not call it a “Booking” in other parts of your UX.
Another common pitfall is combining forms of address. Don’t refer to the user in both the second person and the first person within the same phrase.
Don’t: Change your preferences in My Account
Do: Change your preferences in Your Account
One of the significant characteristics of effective UX writing is clarity and simplicity. For clarity, you need to remove the technical terms and use familiar, understandable words and phrases instead. It’s especially important to avoid jargon in error messages.
Don’t: System error (code #2234): An authentication error has occurred
Do: Sign-in error: You entered an incorrect password
Avoid using the future tense to describe the action.
Don’t: Video has been downloaded
Do: Video downloaded
The passive voice makes readers yawn. Compare this sentence in both voices:
Don’t: The Search button should be clicked when you are ready to search for an item.
Do: Click the Search button to search for an article.
Use numerals in place of words for numbers.
Don’t: You have two missed calls
Do: You have 2 missed calls
Sometimes it might be helpful to provide additional information or supplemental instruction for users. But all too often such details are presented upfront. Too much information can quickly overwhelm users. Thus, reveal detail as needed. Use a mechanism of progressive disclosure to show more details. In the most basic form, this mechanism can be implemented as a ‘Read more’ link to the full content.
Progressive disclosure is especially good for mobile UX (where designers have a limited screen space to work with).
Users don’t like surprises. They hate situations when they’re expecting one thing, and end up with another. People should be able to tell at a glance what an element does. When labeling buttons and other interactive elements, use action verbs, such as ‘Connect,’ ‘Send,’ ‘Subscribe’ instead of vague ‘Okay’ or ‘Submit.’
A lot of designers say that incorporating humor in UX makes it sound more human. But similar to any other component of UX, humor should be designed. People are likely to read the text in your interface many times, and what might seem clever at first can become irritating over time (especially if you use humor in error messages). Also, remember that humor in one culture doesn’t necessarily translate well to other cultures.
The terms we use when describing interaction with a desktop app do not necessarily apply to mobile platforms. For example, if you design an iPhone app, we can’t say ‘click’ when referring to the action. We need to say ‘tap’ instead.
People don’t use the date when they refer to the day before the present day. They say ‘yesterday.’ The same principle can be applied to UXs. Instead of giving a date, say ‘today,’ ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow.’ It prevents users from using the calendar each time they want to know when the event happened. But remember that these terms can be confusing or inaccurate if you don’t account for the current locale.
Human beings are incredibly visual creatures. An ability to interpreting visual information is hard-wired into our brains. In some contexts, it might be nearly impossible to say something in words. That’s where imagery can support us and make text comprehensible.

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