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UX Writing

Laura Parker
October 11, 2019

UX Writing

My presentation from the Copywriting Conference 2019.

A lesson in UX writing, user anxiety, accessibility and balancing empathy and humour in your writing.


Laura Parker

October 11, 2019

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  1. @lmpcopywriter
    Hello, CopyCon19
    Laura Parker, UX Writer

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    UX writing and copywriting
    • Similar, but a different purpose 

    — Copywriting is writing to sell

    — UX writing is writing to inform

    • UX writing helps people interact with a product or service

    — UX copy includes buttons and menu labels, error messages, security notes, terms
    and conditions, instructions.

    • UX writers are also similar to content designers and technical writers 

    — We’re all working to solve the same problem…

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    Problem: how do you make software
    human and relatable?

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    Keep a beginner’s mind
    Don’t assume the user knows anything

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    What’s a beginner’s mind?
    • We create new things all the time 

    — But we forget what it's like to be a new user.

    • A new user might be anxious about using your product 

    — Give them everything they need and nothing more.

    • We know too much (curse of knowledge) 

    — the more you know, the further you are from the beginner’s perspective.

    • Users have existing expectations and behaviours

    — Don’t assume users will find your product intuitive if they do the same thing differently
    on other apps/websites. 

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    A note about user anxiety
    • User anxiety is when you don’t understand how to use something

    • Writers can help users feel less anxious by 

    — being obvious (keep a beginner’s mind)

    — using plain language 

    — avoiding jargon (but if it’s useful, leave it in)

    — writing consistently (do we say ‘click’ or ‘tap’)
    Monzo spending alert

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    It helps to know how we read
    • Our cognitive load (mental effort) increases 11% for every 100 words

    • We prefer high frequency words over low frequency words (use forums to
    discover audience vocabulary)

    • Your eyes miss 30% of text on a page

    • We guess what words mean by the shape of them, it’s called a saccade
    rhythm (use words readers can skip using their natural saccade rhythm)

    • Most people can recognise 15,000 words
    — Jakob Nielsen, How Do Users Read
    — Sarah Richards, Content Design

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    Our eyes don’t see every letter in a word or every word in a sentence. Our eyes skip
    along the text in small jumps called saccades.

    After each saccade, our brain takes a snapshot and arranges the letters into words.
    Those pauses are called fixations.
    — Jost Hochuli, Detail in Typography

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    Empathy v humour
    Writing with flavour

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    — Slack — Trello — MailChimp

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    Accessibility: writing with empathy
    • Average UK reading age is 9 years

    • Roughly 11.9 million people are living with a disability (1 in 5
    people or 20%)

    • Poor internet connection

    • Busy people

    • Physical injuries

    “Getting to the point quickly has less to do with intelligence
    and more to do with time and respect.”
    — Sarah Richards, Content Design

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    Not all disability is visible

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    Brands play it safe with their humour, and not safe enough
    with their empathy. If your writing is genuinely funny, go for it.
    But do it with all users in mind.

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  18. @lmpcopywriter
    Balancing empathy and humour
    • Have a moment with the reader 

    — Use empathy to find when a user is having a moment, and be a part of it.

    • Keep a beginner’s mind

    — Skip the what and go directly to the why. Focus on why your product is useful.

    • Use simple, everyday language 

    — It helps everyone, especially those with a visual impairment, dyslexia or anxiety.

    • People don’t find the same things funny

    — Humour is risky.

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  19. @lmpcopywriter
    — Andrew Schmidt, Slack

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    Clients do this

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    Working with designers
    Your most important working relationship

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    • You share the same problems 

    — “I need answers to this, this and this before I can start.”

    • You ask (roughly) the same questions

    — “Who am I writing/designing for? What’s the purpose? Brand guidelines?”

    • And, you make things together

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  23. @lmpcopywriter
    Most designers have never worked with a
    writer. It’s down to us to get the ball rolling.

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    How to work with designers
    • Give them your copy in advance 

    — Don’t leave it till the last minute to send your copy. Think about the design deadline too.

    • Send copy in a text file, Pages, or anything else but MS Word

    — Ever watched a designer try to open a Word doc? Most designers don’t use MS Word.

    • Ask for feedback

    — Hoo boy, time to let go of the ego. Feedback can only improve your work.

    • Celebrate their moments of copy greatness 

    — A designer wrote some of my favourite copy, don’t be jealous. 

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    Solving “the design or copy first” riddle

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    Design or copy first?
    • Lead with copy first but don’t get ahead of yourself 

    — It frees up creativity for you and the designer. It gives writers freedom to write without
    thinking of space and set the context for design.

    • Work in sprints

    — Agree on sprint stages to avoid disruptive changes in the final draft.

    • Sometimes, I’m wrong 

    — Why shouldn’t a writer come up with a great visual idea, or a designer think of a
    brilliant headline? It’s okay to be wrong.

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    Done is better than perfect

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    Problem: how do you make software
    human and relatable?

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    Answer: write honestly using simple

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    • Keep a beginner’s mind

    — What’s obvious to you won’t be the same for your audience.

    — Make your audience feel less anxious by using high frequency words.

    • Be empathetic and cautious with humour

    — People with autism might not understand metaphors or idioms.

    — Don’t risk simplicity for the sake of a joke.

    • Work better with designers 

    — It’s not them and us, we’re in it together.

    — work in short stints and communicate.

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  31. @lmpcopywriter
    UX copy tips
    • Use specific verbs 

    — ‘Connect’ or ‘save’ are more meaningful than ‘set up’ or ‘manage’.

    • Avoid showing all details up front

    — Too much information can quickly overwhelm users, reveal detail as needed.
    • Use ‘today,’ ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow’ instead of a date

    — People don’t use the date when they refer to the day before the present day.

    • Avoid long blocks of text

    — Look at your work on a mobile to check spacing.

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  32. @lmpcopywriter
    People to follow

    Andrew Schmidt (senior product writer at Slack): https://www.andrewschmidt.net 

    Jared Spool (UX genius): https://www.uie.com @jmspool

    Craig Wright (tech writer): https://straygoat.co.uk

    Erika Hall (designer): https://muledesign.com @mulegirl

    Caio Braga ([product designer) https://caioab.com @caioab

    Paul Boag (UX expert): https://boagworld.com @boagworld

    Links to click 

    Readability Guidelines: https://readabilityguidelines.myxwiki.org

    Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: https://www.w3.org

    Rules of Effective UX Writing: https://uxplanet.org/16-rules-of-effective-ux-writing-2a20cf85fdbf

    The Unusable podcast: https://podcast.theunusable.com

    Content Design London: http://contentdesign.london

    Microsoft accessibility kit: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-gb/style-guide/welcome/

    UK Home Office accessibility posters: https://github.com/UKHomeOffice/posters/blob/master/accessibility/

    UX Collective: https://uxdesign.cc

    UK disability facts and figures: http://www.craigabbott.co.uk/accessibility-is-not-an-edge-case

    Cartoons by webcomicname.com

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    [email protected]



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