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UX writing for designers

Laura Parker
April 08, 2020

UX writing for designers

If you're a writer, or a designer asked to write copy for a website or app, your goal should be to make reading as easy as possible.

Learn about readability and accessible language and help people make sense of your product or service.

Topics covered:

How people read online
User anxiety and empathy
How to write using plain language
The Government Design System
Resources and recommendations

Laura Parker

April 08, 2020

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  1. @LauraParkerUX How we read online • Our cognitive load (mental

    effort/thinking time) increases 11% for every 100 words • Your brain can drop up to 30% of the text and still understand • Some people bounce around when they read online and anticipate words and fill them in • People with some learning disabilities read letter for letter, they do not bounce around like other users • People with moderate learning disabilities can understand sentences of 5 to 8 words without difficulty • Writing for a reading age of 9 years helps general comprehension — Jakob Nielsen, How Do Users Read — Sarah Richards, Content Design
  2. @LauraParkerUX 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. Use high frequency (or common) words to help people to scan your text. — Jost Hochuli, Detail in Typography
  3. @LauraParkerUX What is a crisis point? • Crisis points happen

    when people get stuck, usually because of an error • There are lots of moments of doubt and anxiety to deal with, especially when using a product or service for the first time • “Do I remember my password? Did that web app really save my changes? Was my shared document sent? Where did that notification disappear to? How do I get it back?” • At crisis points, people want to quickly understand what went wrong and how to fix it — Sarah Richards, Content Design
  4. @LauraParkerUX Who are you talking to? • To understand your

    audience you should know: 
 — how they behave, what they’re interested in or worried about - so your writing will catch their attention and answer their questions 
 — their vocabulary - so that you can use the same terms and phrases they’ll use to search for content • Check Google Trends and forums to see how people are talking about your product or service 
  5. @LauraParkerUX Using plain language benefits everyone • People with poor

    internet connection • Busy people • People with physical injuries • People with children • Roughly 11.9 million people are living with a disability (1 in 5 people or 20%) “Getting to the point quickly has less to do with intelligence and more to do with time and respect.” — Sarah Richards, Content Design
  6. @LauraParkerUX Writing for specialists • Use plain English 

    according to GOV.UK research, people understand complex specialist language, but do not want to read it if there’s an alternative • Technical terms
 — technical terms are not considered jargon but you should explain what they mean • People with the greatest expertise tend to have the most to read 
 — make sure your content is helpful and easy to scan 
  7. @LauraParkerUX Tone of voice • Not every bit of microcopy

    is appropriate for brand voice, clarity always takes first priority • Avoid over branding your copy on
 — navigation and buttons
 — forms and field labels
 — instructions
 — selection text (drop downs, radio buttons)
 — error messages • Use tone of voice for
 — confirmation messages
 — rewards (badges, points) 
  8. @LauraParkerUX 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
  9. @LauraParkerUX • Start with a purpose
 — design your service

    to take account of the fact that lots of people won’t read the content in detail • Think about tone
 — does your copy sound appropriate to the situation and how your user might be feeling? • Consider accessibility needs
 — words to use and avoid when writing about disability • Use plain language
 — copy should be clear and unambiguous 
 https://clearleft.com/posts/what-is-ux-writing-and-why-does-it-matter UX writing tips for designers
  10. @LauraParkerUX How to improve your work • Content crits, content

    clinics and pair writing
 — an opportunity for everyone to comment on your work (be respectful)
 — two people in front of the same screen or piece of paper • Point your work with user stories
 — As a [person in a particular role] 
 — I want to [perform an action or find something out]
 — So that [I can achieve my goal of…] • Demos (or show and tells, or showcases)
 — present your work to the team
  11. @LauraParkerUX How to test your work • Print out the

 — ask users to highlight any words or phrases they're not sure about
 — ask users to highlight the parts they find most useful
 — ask users to read out loud and tell you what it means • Read text on your phone • Work closely with policy and legal
 — members of your policy and legal teams should be observing user research • Readership scores, card sorts, A/B tests

  12. @LauraParkerUX Useful books • Everybody Writes by Anne Handley

    general writing guidance for first time writers • Microcopy: the complete guide by Kinneret Yifrah
 — introduction to copywriting, helpful for beginners and advice you can trust • Strategic writing for UX by Torrey Podmajersky
 — timeless advice about how to write in plain English, not a novel • Readability Guidelines and Content Design by Sarah Richards
 — a framework for writing online, backed by evidence • Defensive design for the web: how to improve error messages… by 37Signals 
 — written by a studio of devs and designers 

  13. @LauraParkerUX People to follow
 Andrew Schmidt (senior product writer at

    Slack): https://www.andrewschmidt.net 
 Jared Spool (UX) https://www.uie.com @jmspool
 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
 GOV.UK https://www.gov.uk/guidance/content-design/writing-for-gov-uk