7 Tips for Writing Clear, Human-friendly Microcopy

Words matter — and not just in books. They help you navigate a physical environment or a digital product. This article explores the words and text used in digital environments.

User experience (UX) writing has become an essential part of product development. Some UX writers promote the content-first approach. Your microcopy dictates your design, rather than the design-first approach.

UX writing focuses on creating clear, human, and enjoyable microcopy. For many tech startups, UX writing is strongly intertwined with their design process. Bad microcopy can have a substantial impact on a product’s sales.

A single, poorly chosen word can induce fear or confusion in users. In other words, a single word can lead to successful product signup or yet another cart abandonment.

This article explores seven quirky tips to enhance your UX writing. But before we start, let’s briefly define the relationship between UX writing and microcopy.

How are UX Writing and Microcopy Connected?

There are different types of writing. Copywriting, for example, focuses on creating content to market a product. UX writing, however, focuses on the content embedded in products.

To give you an example of UX writing, think of the text on buttons, labels for webforms, or any little textual guidance or clues when using a product. Here, the main goal of content (or text) is to guide the user, remove confusion, and provide clear directions.

So, what’s the link now between UX writing and microcopy? Microcopy refers to the copy for the user interface. As mentioned above, it involves buttons, input labels, and app instructions, among other things.

UX writing has become an increasingly important aspect of product development. Great microcopy can increase sales, improve user satisfaction, and lower the barrier to engaging users.

Let’s now take a look at seven UX writing tips …

Tip 1: A Brand Personality Makes Your UX Writing Sparkle

Everyone can write words on paper. But can these words engage the right people? It’s crucial to understand that words have different meanings for different people. For instance, word-jokes can make your brand stand out, but they can also confuse users.

It’s important to identify your brand personality. A brand voice is a verbal translation of your brand personality. It determines how your brand sounds and makes it easy to recognize.

Remember how we mentioned that your microcopy should sound human? Let’s compare two microcopy examples for a failed login attempt using an incorrect password.

Example 1:

Wrong password. Try again or click “Forgot password” to reset it.

Example 2:

Oops! It looks as if you may have forgotten your password. Click here to reset it.

Now imagine you meet this interface in person. Which message sounds more human? The second example does sound more human.

Let’s look at how Oatly, a trendy oat milk brand, handles their cookie consent popup.

Oatly's cookie consent popup

Their cookie consent popup represents their brand personality. Oatly cares about users’ privacy and cares about the climate. Their brand’s voice is playful and friendly. Even often neglected web elements like a cookie consent popup can carry your brand’s voice.

If you struggle to define your brand personality, take a look at the example of brand personality bias below to help you define the right tone.

Brand personality bias

Source: Ahmed Magdi on behance.net – UX writing case study

Tip 2: Design to Reduce Fear or Confusion

The Internet can be a scary and confusing place. Good microcopy can take away some of those negative feelings. In the introduction, we discussed how a single, poorly chosen word could cause feelings of fear or confusion.

Here are some very straightforward examples that can still spark emotions in users:

  • A company asks for your phone number via their web form. Does that mean they’ll pester you with annoying calls?
  • An online service wants you to pay for your monthly subscription. How secure is the payment connection?
  • You’re signing up for an online streaming service. Can you opt out at any time, or is there a notice period?

Airbnb with and without microcopy

Even an elementary “location” field without supporting microcopy text on Airbnb’s website can confuse a reader.

  • Do you want my current location?
  • Do you want my preferred destination?

Airbnb with and without microcopy

Here, the microcopy message under the “Reserve” button explains what will happen when you click this button. Without this message, many users might feel some level of fear or confusion about what will happen next.

For instance, I like reviewing my Airbnb order once more before committing to a reservation. Without a microcopy message, I’m not sure if I’m committing to a reservation or if I’ll have the chance to review the order once more.

Fear is often a driven motivator to not complete an action.

You might be surprised how even the smallest web element like a button can induce fear or confusion. Design an interface with this in mind. Try to read your users’ minds and preempt their questions. Fear is often the reason why users don’t complete an action. Removing fear and confusion helps users feel more confident when navigating your interface.

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7 Tips for Writing Clear, Human-friendly Microcopy
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