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Writing with empathy: how to make software human and relatable

Laura Parker
November 25, 2019

Writing with empathy: how to make software human and relatable

Presented at Northern UX.

You can design the most beautiful app, but if the copy is hard to read, people will get frustrated, ignore it, and delete it.

I tackle things like:

How to keep a beginner’s mind when you’re creating a product
User anxiety and how to write for users with dyslexia, autism and anxiety
Reading psychology and how to balance empathy and humour in your writing
How writers and designers can work better together

This talk is not just for writers or content designers. If you’re a product owner, developer, designer or manager, come along.

Laura Parker

November 25, 2019

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

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  2. @lmpcopywriter
    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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  3. @lmpcopywriter
    Problem: how do you make software
    human and relatable?

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  4. @lmpcopywriter

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  5. @lmpcopywriter
    Keep a beginner’s mind
    Don’t assume the user knows anything

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  6. @lmpcopywriter
    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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  7. @lmpcopywriter
    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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  8. @lmpcopywriter
    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)

    • Users read about 20% 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 little do users read
    — Sarah Richards, Content Design

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  9. @lmpcopywriter
    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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  10. @lmpcopywriter
    Empathy v humour
    Writing with flavour

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  11. @lmpcopywriter
    — Audible — https://uxdesign.cc/writing-clearer-error-messages

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  12. @lmpcopywriter
    — Slack — Trello — MailChimp

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  13. @lmpcopywriter
    Accessibility: writing with empathy
    • Average UK reading age is 9-13 years

    • 1.4 million people have a learning disability in the UK (source:

    • 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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  14. @lmpcopywriter
    Not all disability is visible

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  18. @lmpcopywriter
    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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  19. @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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  20. @lmpcopywriter

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  22. @lmpcopywriter
    — Andrew Schmidt, Slack

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  23. @lmpcopywriter
    Clients do this

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  24. @lmpcopywriter
    Working with designers
    Your most important working relationship

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  25. @lmpcopywriter
    • 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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  26. @lmpcopywriter
    Most designers have never 

    worked with a writer

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  27. @lmpcopywriter
    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

    — 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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  28. @lmpcopywriter
    Done is better than perfect

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  29. @lmpcopywriter
    Problem: how do you make software
    human and relatable?

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  30. @lmpcopywriter
    Answer: write honestly using 

    simple language

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  31. @lmpcopywriter
    • 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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  32. @lmpcopywriter
    UX copy tips
    • Avoid negative contractions (can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘don’t) 

    — Some people rely on reading the ‘not’ to understand what is being said.

    • Be obvious and literal

    — Short descriptions are not always better if critical information is missing or there's no context.
    • 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.

    • Use high frequency words

    — High frequency words are easy to skip using the saccade rhythm. 

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  33. @lmpcopywriter
    People with learning disabilities are experts on accessible information.
    They know what works for them and what does not. It is common sense to
    involve the people you are trying to communicate with in your work process.
    Involve people with learning disabilities from the very beginning.

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  34. @lmpcopywriter

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  35. @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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  36. @lmpcopywriter



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