User experience design is usually thought to revolve exclusively around the visual appearance of an interface and the interactions between the user and graphical components. So while it’s true that much of what consider to be “UX” relates to the visual experience, the role of content - words and writing that appear within the interface - are often overlooked.
Prompts, buttons, labels, and contextual help are all examples of microcopy - short pieces of written content that help to direct the user through a flow and towards an end goal.
According to PlainLanguage.gov, “plain language is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.”
Understanding this concept is a cornerstone to producing effective microcopy - must be short, easy to read, and engaging.
However, the objective here isn’t about watering down content to cater to the least-knowledgeable reader. Effective use of plain language communicates information quickly and clearly, is easily scanned, benefiting everyone - even experts on the subject matter.
While plain language should serve as a basis for producing microcopy, it should still be tailored for your audience. It should be kept simple and easy to understand, but written based on what you know will resonate best with your targeted reader.
Web forms and wizards are typically organized into some type of flow whereby the user progresses to achieve a goal. Any use of microcopy should respect this sequence and be logically organized to support the use case. For example, if expedited shipping is not available in my region, I’d want to know that as soon as I’ve entered my address — not at the end of an account creation process.
Similarly, breaking out long-form copy into digestible chunks helps to establish a logical organization. Choose concise yet descriptive headings to establish an at-a-glance visual hierarchy.
Conversational copy is easier to understand and is more engaging because it is written to emulate a tone and choice of words we might use if we were speaking to the user in person. Some examples include:
While using plain language and conversational tones can help to eliminate unnecessary words, we should always seek further ways to simplify microcopy.
Keep it short and direct. Keep the relevant details and leave out those that are potentially distracting. Look for redundant language and remove it. The more concise you can be, the more time you’ll save for the user.
Think about these attributes: simplicity, friendly, empathetic, accessible, and engaging. You should see a pattern here — virtually every aspect of good UX writing maps back to the same principles of effective UI design.
Using these attributes when developing microcopy can exponentially increase the overall impact of digital experiences by harmonizing thoughtful messaging with intuitive user interfaces.Mighty Unicorn offers tailored solutions to help you achieve meaningful results, just like this.
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Steve Coppola is a user experience & digital marketing professional - and founder of Input UX. With over 25 years of agency experience, he has worked with many of the world's most respected brands in various capacities including UI/UX design, customer research, usability testing, and front end development.
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