Aleena Malik
Aleena Malik 11 November 2020

5 Tried And Tested Steps For Strategic UX Writing (Used by Google)

Strategic microcopy for your websites and apps can make or break a successful user experience and appealing brand voice. Language in software helps the user get to where they want to go, and by focusing on what the user wants to achieve, loyalty and trust is gained. In many organizations, marketers, designers, or engineers are tasked with creating microcopy, but it is a craft of its own.

UX writers are the humans behind the copy you read when you come across a 404 error page or success messages, and anything in between. They work alongside the engineers, product managers, researchers, marketers, and designers to study the product inside and out in order to break down the complexity of the product’s actions into a simplified, intuitive version that their user can understand.

They revise their craft by speaking their words out loud in order to ensure it flows naturally like a conversation, take recommendations from interdisciplinary colleagues, and run experiments like A/B Tests to monitor the result of different versions of microscopy on user behavior and engagement, as well as overall ease and happiness with the product.

If hiring a contract or employee UX writer isn’t an option at your current stage, below is a 5 step UX Writing process that you can follow from start to finish as general guidelines when writing microcopy and crafting brand strategy for your product.

1. Define Your Brand Voice

Brand voice is the personality in your writing and reflects your product’s character. It should take your audience into account and guide the principles of clarity, concision, and usefulness (which we’ll cover later).

Start with the benefits

Consider how to enunciate the most standout traits, or value proposition, of your product, that differentiates it from competitors.

Generate brand principles

Brand principles are 3-4 adjectives that embody your brand’s perceived personality.

When Google’s interdisciplinary team of engineers, marketers, product managers, designers, writers, and researchers brainstormed the brand principles for Android Pay, they came up with fresh, empathetic, and approachable as their adjectives.

Maggie Stanphill, a UX Director at Google, explains how Google’s brand voice is centered around usefulness due to the ease and simplicity of the Google search engine page. Their other tenet was inspired by the Google Doodle, portraying optimism and lightheartedness.

Adjust tone according to context

Although your brand voice is consistent and doesn’t change day-to-day, it may sound different in various contexts according to the event and severity of the situation. This adjustment according to context is called tone.

For example, if the user won a prize or made their first purchase, the tone would be celebratory and optimistic, but if the network connection went out, the tone may sound more serious in order to help the user troubleshoot the problem.

Juliana Appenrodt, a UX writer at Google, explained how the Android Pay team mapped the different moments in the user journey on a tone spectrum ranging from serious to whimsical. Your product’s two ends of the spectrum may be different depending on your brand’s voice, your product type, your audience, and situations they may encounter in their journey.

2. Know Your Audience and Map Out Their Journey

Create a typical user persona

Since not everybody speaks the same language, it's important to understand who you’re writing for so you can tailor your language accordingly. Don’t write for everyone; if you know your audience you can narrow that focus on that conversation and interaction instead of trying to write to every single person in the entire world.

From there, you can choose familiar words and phrasing that they understand and connect with.

Laura Strader, a UX writer at Bluehost, says that when you don't know your audience and attempt to write to everyone you have more words, resulting in greater confusion as you try to cover too many things. When you know your audience you can hone in on a personal conversation.

Trace their intentions with using your software. Who are they? Why are they coming to you? How did they find you? What are they seeking? What are their goals?

Map out the user’s journey with your product

Afterwards, plan out each step of the process, or the user flow, from the error message to the success page. What comes first? What pitfalls might they fall into along the way? What does the “end” look like?

User flow is the steps from the first task to the next and on until they are done meeting their goal. The conversation you're having with your user should flow from one step to the next. You should consider where they came from and where they’re going next.

Knowing the user’s journey will be vital when you craft your brand voice and use various tones to be depending on the user’s position along the journey. Predict each step of the user’s journey that messages need to be created for in order to help the user accomplish their goal faster without confusion. Don’t forget about user pain points that might arise along the way in their journey with your product.

3. Be Clear

Avoid technical jargon (unless you’re speaking to an audience of specialists)

If you work on enterprise applications or write for specialists, it is fine to maintain specialist, or “technical” language, as long as you keep your end (user) in mind.

Replace technical jargon with simple, everyday language and offer context that a layman is able to comprehend for moments. When an error pops up, for example, your average non-technical user may want to understand their end of the process and how to fix the issue without concerning themselves with the software’s uninterpretable back-end dysfunctionality issues.

Allison Rung, a Content Strategy Manager at Airbnb, says it best, “Clear doesn’t mean precise; it means just enough context to make sense to your typical user.”

Being clear with language simply also implies maintaining consistency with names and labels to avoid confusion when referring to the same thing.

Use verbs that direct the user’s next action

Additionally, using the right verbs will help make your writing more clear. A verb is an action word that should convey an actionable next step for the user. Once again, focus on relaying information that makes the most sense in context for the user and what they can do to fix the issue at hand rather than explaining the software’s actions.

For example, If the user entered an incorrect password, instead of saying “a sign-in error has occurred,” revolve around what the user has done incorrectly and how they can fix the situation. In this case, “you entered an incorrect password” would suffice to communicate the message in an actionable manner for the user.

Put the action in the user’s context, especially when releasing a new product announcement or update; hone in on what the user can do with the product instead of the product's technical specs that may bewilder a non-technical audience.

4. Be Concise

Use words sparingly

Being concise doesn’t only mean short; it means ensuring each word has a distinct job in order to be included. If the word is fluffy, repetitive, or unclear, delete it. Do not add extra unnecessary information for the user; only include what the user should know and do in the moment.

According to eye tracking research conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, people won’t read every word on your page; they scan in one of four main patterns in an attempt for efficiency and speed.

The implication from this study emphasizes that most readers will not spend time reading text exhaustively, and in some cases will leave after the first or second paragraph, so always be sure to frontload, or put the most important information first.

Adhering to practices like bolding, listing, or subheading the most important content at the forefront will also increase the chance that readers will actually read your content as opposed to skimming it, as chances are, they will be less likely to continue reading past the first couple words if it is too wordy.

Whitespace is okay (and encouraged!)

Sometimes UX writers feel compelled to fill in every empty header, sidebar, and description box even when superfluous, which causes redundant messaging and should be avoided whenever possible in order to enhance content-first design.

Content-first design tailors visual elements to messaging (and not the other way around) so ideally, designers should work in parallel with writers to avoid writing where unnecessary.

5. Be Useful

Don’t get too ahead of yourself.

Take it step-by-step by only including words most needed by your user at the stage they are in, and do not complicate the process by advancing past the user’s current stage.

Remember your content-first design throughout. Ask yourself if the information you are conveying to the user is relevant at the moment to help them get where they want to go next. You always want your text to help people get where they want to go.

Have a definitive call-to-action.

The call-to-action may be buttons or hyperlinks to a landing page for the user to complete an action, such as a sign-up or application form. The CTA needs to resonate with what the user intends to do next, so be sure to map out the user’s journey through your product to ensure they get where they need to go.

Once you have the essentials in place and have drafted copy for every step in the user’s journey (including any pitfalls they may face along the way) be sure to revise, get feedback, and edit, edit, edit!

Never underestimate the power of A/B testing when validating a hypothesis or deciding between different versions of text. Appenrodt revealed how an A/B Test helped the Android Pay team discover that changing the first button text from “Add Card” to “Get Started” resulted in a 12% increase in click-throughs.

Finding the right balance between clarity, concision, and usefulness is key as things are prone to change as you integrate your brand voice to forge a stronger human connection with your audience. Keep the user first and predict their goals and intentions with using your product, and map out their journey.

Let your strategic UX writing guide your users through their journey with your product.

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