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UX Writing: Handy Tips on Text Improving User Experience

The article gives the brief definition of UX writing, describes the features of effective interface copy and shares useful tips on its improvement for the positive user experience.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple,” Jack Kerouac once said without any idea that his words will perfectly reflect the essence of UX writing. We mostly think about design as something visually appealing and easy to use, with visual images coming to mind first. However, the type of content with which users deal most often and diversely is text. Our today’s article is right about it: let’s review the essence of UX writing, the features of effective interface copy and well-checked practices for its improvement.

What Is UX Writing?

UX writing is a professional activity of writing texts for user interfaces both web and mobile. It includes creating texts from small labels of buttons and icons to taglines, error messages, notifications, navigation prompts and instructions, guidelines and so on.

What is crucial to keep in mind is that

  • text is a part of design
  • text is a part of user experience.

The term UX Writing is often replaced with Copywriting. Do they mean the same?

Basically, no, they define different types of activities. Copywriters’ main goal is creating texts that sell something, be it products, services, tools, intellectual and creative stuff, etc. UX writers’ task is creating texts that support and enhance users communication with interfaces, let them clearly understand what’s going on and lighten the negative experience in case of errors or problems of interaction.

Nevertheless, coming from the advertising sphere, the term “copy” as a synonym of “text” quickly got a toehold in UI/UX design as well. Based on that, people creating texts for interfaces were also called copywriters, much before the term “UX writer” came into play. What’s more, in many companies people writing marketing texts and interface texts are pretty much the same people. So, don’t be confused too much: although the terms define different tasks, they are still often used as synonyms, and text pieces in UI are usually called copy.

booking service website

Booking Website

Is Text Needed for All Types of Interactions?

We have already touched this issue in our article devoted to relations of icons and copy in user interfaces. Indeed, visuals are transmitted to the brain much faster than text and important pieces of information are often fixed by the brain as images even if they were obtained via text perception. In user interfaces, where basic interactions should take seconds, this aspect is crucial and it can be seen as the real reason to turn hell out of everything into the graphics. On the other hand, there is the aspect of meaning: users can perceive images super fast but if the message they transfer is not clear and can have double-reading, this speed will not bring positive user experience.

There are loads of widely-recognized graphics and associations such as a telephone receiver for a phone call, the envelope for mail, magnifier for search and so on. Certainly, using them, you create a much faster perception of the UI functionality than using copy instead of an image. Nevertheless, in cases when the image of an icon is not so obvious, its usage should be thoughtfully contemplated. There are cases when text transfers the idea or data more clearly so it is an effective solution to use double scheme when the icon is supported by the text.

travel planner app design

Travel Planner App

4 Basic Features of Effective UX Text

The copy content in any interface is based on 4 foundation stones: it has to be

  • clear (users understand what you talk about, the core message isn’t blurred or complicated)
  • concise (the piece of text is meaningful, laconic and concentrated on the goal, no empty talk is included)
  • useful (the copy gives users necessary information or helps with interactions)
  • consistent (the copy within the interface of one digital product keeps the same style, tone, voice and terminology)

Now, let’s review some practices helping to create texts that support positive user experience.

Perfect Bouquet App

Useful Tips on UX Writing

1. Integrate real copy in UI as early as possible

Working on early versions of a user interface, UX designers tend to use the so-called Lorem Ipsum. It’s a kind of popular placeholder text that looks like Latin but really doesn’t mean anything. It’s aimed at creating a naturally looking piece of text in the layout of a webpage, mobile screen, magazine or newspaper page, etc.

Onboarding fitness app UI tubik

Onboarding screens for Manuva app at the UI design stage, using Lorem Ipsum for placeholder copy blocks

When you are deep in the design process, it is really tempting to just copy-paste the nonsense text into the places planned for copy blocks. Why is it a not-so-good idea?

Firstly, the text is a part of the design. Different letter combinations look differently. Words have different volumes and structures. It’s especially true for a tagline that presents one of the most important elements of webpage visual hierarchy and is scanned in the first seconds of interaction. So, what pleases your eye in Lorem Ipsum may not work with real text that will be used on the page or screen.

Secondly, using the realistic text you make a prototype feel like genuine and natural. Let’s say, if you design a website selling cooking equipment, you won’t use photos or illustrations of agriculture machines for placeholders, even at the earliest stages of the design process, will you? Why? Because it won’t connect the design concept with the goals set for this product. The same happens with the text part of the layout. The copy you use should create the united image and experience with all the other elements of the layout. What’s more, you can spend hours working out the great looks for notification pop-ups, system messages, webpage text blocks – and all that effort will be wasted when you realize that real copy to be used in this UI is different on its length, structure and perhaps even message.

home decor ecommerce website

E-commerce platform for buying and selling home decor

2. Build a solid text hierarchy allowing users to scan the page content

In our article devoted to web scannability, we have already mentioned the well-checked fact: users don’t start interaction with reading every text element on the page or screen. They scan it in search of the hooks that can catch their attention: if they are convincing enough, the user makes a decision to give the resource a second look, attentive and diving in details. Although pictures of any kind are much more catchy and faster perceived, in many cases text becomes the element that plays a crucial part in decision-making. One of the reasons is that from one generation to another, we are traditionally accustomed to seeing a text as a main source of information.

Grounded on that, keep in mind that the main message presented in text form would better be quickly found in the first seconds of interaction. All the text elements should be organized according to the typographic hierarchy so that scanning the page or screen, the user could quickly understand which part carries the core message and which is less important. Also, it’s advisable to make text harmonically work together with key images on the page or screen (illustration, photo, 3D rendered image, etc.)

health blog web design

Health Blog Home Page where all the copy elements are connected to the hero image

3. Catch attention with numbers and marked elements

One of the investigations of user behavior provided by Nielsen Norman Blog shared an interesting finding: based on eye-tracking studies while users scan web pages, numerals often stop the wandering eye and attract fixations, even when they’re embedded within a mass of words that users otherwise ignore. People subconsciously associate numbers with facts, stats, sizes and distance – something potentially useful for them. So they are hooked with the numbers included in copy while words representing numerals can be missed in the bulk of the text. In addition, whatever numbers represent, they are more compact than their textual variant, which enables to make the content concise and time-saving for skimming the data.

Everything mentioned above can be a reason to break some rules and habits. Traditionally, we are recommended to spell the numbers at the beginning of the sentences, spell the numbers from zero to ten, etc., and you may follow all that successfully in articles and other types of copy content presented with the big amount of text. However, for the texts accompanying the interactions, you should be as focused as possible, and it’s a good idea to catch users’ attention with numbers.

upper app UI design case study

Upper App

Also, don’t forget about the ways of marking out the specific information that came from book and magazine design: bold and italic fonts, word sizes, negative space, different color or highlighting – all that stuff worked many years ago and still works successfully today. Just don’t overact, don’t overwhelm users with too many elements trying to catch their attention. As Aarron Walter said, “If everything yells for your viewer’s attention, nothing is heard.”

Construction company website with a typography-based design that marks the keywords with different color

4. Be focused and grammar-flexible

No doubt, clarity and grammar correctness build the foundation of a good experience when it comes to text. However, it may work differently if you write microcopy for a button or the message is limited with a rather small number of characters in a pop-up screen. So, here you have to decide on being grammar-flexible which means avoiding complicated constructions and reducing the elements that do not play a vital role.

For example, Material Design guide on writing advises to avoid unnecessary punctuation such as periods in copy for labels, hover text, bulleted lists or dialog body text or colons after labels.

ux writing tips

ux writing tips

As well, for UX copy, they recommend using present tenses but in their simple forms.

ux writing tips

Also, keep in mind that choosing Active Voice instead of Passive whenever it’s possible is a good idea. In most cases, it looks more natural and clear; in addition, it may be more user-friendly for the users who are not advanced in English.

Just always remember that the main goal of the text in mobile or web interface is to inform. Daily overwhelmed with tons of information, users want to get it quickly and effortlessly – so give it to them. It’s not about breaking all the rules and communicating with unnatural phrases. It’s about the best expression of text minimalism cutting off the stuff that’s not essential. It’s about using simple and direct language clear to various users.

blog app ui design

Blog App

Nielsen Norman Group even posted the article sharing the list of cringeworthy words and phrases that you would better avoid in UI texts, among which:

  • very (and other intensifiers):
  • utilize
  • enable
  • we understand (in today’s fast-paced world…) and other blah-blah stuff
  • end user

That’s especially true for mobile interfaces which are strictly limited in space that can be used for copy content, and with them, you have to take into account that users often deal with apps on the go. The issue of being clear and readable directly influences user experience and conversion level. So, the question like “Save changes?” looks more effective here than “Would you like to save the changes?” or “Do you want to save the changes?” or “Please confirm that you would like to save the changes” and so on.

tasty burger ui design delivery screens tubik

Delivery screens for Tasty Burger App

5. Do A/B testing for the copy of interactive elements

Buttons copy is one of the crucial parts of user experience: if you are not into UX design and writing, you could be surprised how much time and effort should be devoted to these small but impactful elements of the layout. What is written on the button should direct users to the action and let them understand what happens next. So, as well as you test design solutions such as color, placement of size of the button, you are recommended to make the text of button label another object of A/B testing. Especially, if you are not a part of the core target audience: for instance, you create the product for elderly people with low-level of tech literacy while you yourself are a young advanced user of various software and gadgets. Testing will give you an understanding of how real users perceive the label and what kind of text is more convincing for them.

hiring artist website design illustration

Home page for the web platform to find and hire artists

Buttons often offer the choices to a user: we can accept, delay or cancel something, Writing text for such elements, remember the idea shared in one of the recent explorations by Nielsen Norman Group: “The copy that you use in choices on your interface asks people to agree with a statement. That statement is often about themselves or the actions that they wish to take. It’s important from a user-experience standpoint and from a business perspective to write interface copy that supports rather than undermines the decision-making process. Trust, expectations, and positive self-image all shape the associations that users will have with a product. An honest, direct presentation of choices creates trust and positive emotion.”

cookbook app ui design

Mobile screens for a cookbook app

6. Build natural and consistent dialogue

The best thing you can do for your user with the written content is creating the feeling of communication with a human. A human that has a clear style and voice of communication, is helpful and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel at every step just to emmarvel you. Decide upon the main terminology and names of operations – and use them throughout the messages and notifications: for example, use the word “delete” every time when this action is meant to be done and don’t replace it with “remove” for some screens if the action is the same. Synonyms are good for making language bright and vivid in articles or books, but they may ruin user experience making users find the connections between synonymic terms instead of just using the product for solving their problems.

Here’s another example from the Material Design guide on writing.

tips on ux writing

7. Make your text feel like users’ friend

Supporting the previous idea, keep the style of the dialogue that corresponds to the target audience expectations. Being clear and friendly is more important here than being linguistically elaborate – the only exception is when target users do expect this kind of language. User research is your homework in this case: it allows both designers and writers to clarify a proper style choice for not only visual but also copy solutions.

style and fashion app inspora design

Profile creation screens for Inspora, the virtual stylist

vintage car app onboarding screens

Onboarding screens of an app for hiring vintage cars

8. Avoid slang

By slang, we mean here any kind of specific and technical terms that can confuse users. For example, when you inform a user that the video is buffering, are you sure he or she knows what that means? If yes, that’s a good choice of text. If no, look for a simpler word. Don’t use “enable” instead of “turn on” which is much clearer for most people. Here’s the example from Alfresco Writing Guide.

ux writing tips and practices

9. Don’t forget about capitalization

Basically, capitalization is writing or printing in capital letters or with an initial capital. There are three levels of capitalization:

  • all-caps (all the letters are capital)
  • title case (the first letter of each word is capitalized excluding prepositions up to 4 letters and articles)
  • sentence case (you only capitalize the first letter of the first word and proper nouns, as you would in a sentence).

secure app landing page

Now, there are hot discussions about using sentence case instead of title case as it feels like more friendly and informal. However, for English speakers, it’s still a natural feature of the language that apart from feeling the text as less or more formal marks the levels of text hierarchy. So, the decision is up to you, of course, but consider the following tips about capitalization:

  • Use Title Style Caps to mark field labels, actions, menu items, and page titles
  • Choose Sentence style caps for longer copy such as page or field descriptions and tooltips
  • Apply ALL-CAPS moderately, only to super important items (short taglines, brand name, core navigation points in website header, short call-to-action text and abbreviations like OK) and avoid it at all the rest of cases.

Whatever choice you make, what’s really important: be consistent. Make a decision once – and follow it through all the interface. If you decided to use title case for all the buttons, check that you keep that rule all the time. Inconsistency distracts and even annoys users.

restaurant app design

Sign-up screen for a restaurant app

10. Start from the most important information

This advice seems to be super simple, so that’s surprising what a big number of people dealing with copy don’t follow it. In the case of short text, instruction, message, focus only on valuable information, don’t distract users with too much of lead-in and warm-up text. Sure, it doesn’t mean that you have to come up with only dry unemotional information-only texts, yet try to minimize the supportive part and maximize the active one. For longer texts, such as articles, guides, product descriptions and the like, consider using the principle from journalism called the Inverted Pyramid Principle. It’s when you go from what’s needed to know to what’s nice to know, from the core message to the details which may be not that vital.

tasty burger UI design

Landing page for Tasty Burger presents the core feature first: you can create the burger by yourself, customizing it to what’s perfect for your taste.

visual media creator website tubik

Home page design for visual media creator based on 3D hero image and core functionality in the copy block above the fold.

All the mentioned tips are not the cure-all: the decisions upon them have to be based on studies and analysis for each particular case. There are numerous factors that influence the creation of copy for interfaces, from purely design ones to a general brand strategy that defines the style of communication with users. Anyway, we hope that the list collected above will help you to come up with the creative lines supporting positive user experience. Sure, there are more points, cases, and examples to discuss and consider in the domain of UX writing, so we will continue the theme in our upcoming posts. Don’t miss!

Useful Reading

Copywriting for Mobile and Web Interfaces: Types of UI Copy

Material Design: Writing

3C of Interface Design: Color, Contrast, Content

Inverted Pyramid: Writing for Comprehension

Interface Copy Impacts Decision Making

Tips on Applying Copy Content in User Interfaces

16 Rules of Effective UX Writing

User Experience: How to Make Web Interface Scannable


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