[Founders’ guide] Principles for writing UX copy
6 minute read
Content is at the frontline of all products, interacting with the users at all times. It aids them in navigating the product, solving their problems, and achieving their goals. It almost feels like a crime not to put enough attention to it.
We are a tiny team at Chatwoot, navigating through a lot of seen and unseen challenges, trying to make sense of how the product and marketing should be. That is why whenever we hit a standstill, we like to learn about the associated subject as much as we can and take our own stand.
Naturally, in the initial months of Chatwoot, the major focus had been on creating a great product. We didn’t really have any processes around writing UX copy. It was mostly based on the instincts of the team member creating a specific feature or page within the product.
So, when we finally decided to revisit the product copy in 2023, we were overwhelmed. There was a lot to be looked at, and there weren’t a lot of patterns to be found in terms of writing style, product sentiment, or even grammar. We had some repairs to do.
We started looking at some of our favorite SaaS products and searched for patterns. Surprisingly, though, many of such products did not have any patterns. However, this exercise helped us understand the subject and design our own set of principles for writing UX copy. As we continue revisiting our own UX copy, we share our learnings here and hope that it helps you find a direction if you are in the same boat as we are. :)
First things first: Defining the brand voice
The concept of brand voice can be paralleled with a specific human’s voice. It has character, simplicity, and, most importantly, uniqueness. If you can understand how your brand is perceived by those outside the organization, especially customers, it will be extremely useful for you to define a brand voice. If you are not sure about how your brand is perceived, you can start by asking yourself three basic questions, as listed below.
- Is our business doing something new and unique; is it a fresh take on something that already exists? Or is it another competitor in an already optimized industry?
This could determine if your brand’s language could sound positive and fresh or standardized.
- Which industry and type of audience are we catering to?
This could determine who your brand is talking to. Is it male teenagers, is it expecting mothers, is it working professionals or sportsmen?
- How do we want to appear? Professional and conscientious, or friendly and vibrant?
This could determine the general tone of the brand’s language.
Getting the answers to these questions will help you understand your brand’s personality. If you are struggling with these questions, you can conduct surveys or interviews with your customers. Once you have the answers, you’ll be able to understand what you want your brand to sound like.
Principles to help think in the right direction
Your copy is going to be unique, just like your brand. However, here are a few principles, that we have designed for Chatwoot, that should help bring some sanity into the process of UX copywriting.
Understand the user mindset – at every little step
Always put yourself in the users' shoes and think about the specific point/mindset/problem they would be at when interacting with a specific page of your product. And offer a solution. E.g., If someone enters a wrong password, we give an error that their password was wrong, but it is also important to offer a solution like “Forgot password?” or “Try again”.
Try to sit with your team and do this exercise for every aspect of the product. The results may just blow your mind. 🤯
Understand the purpose of placeholders
The placeholders (in form fields) have to be helpful. They must act like an example or a nudge for your users to think in the right direction. Some things would still be standard, like name, email, etc. So, one of the three things can be done here:
- Skip the placeholder altogether if the field name/label is suggestive enough, as GitHub does it.
2. If you do decide to write the placeholder, either give an example or give a helping hand. Try to hold the user’s hand during the process. For e.g., We have a 'personal message signature' setting available in Chatwoot, enabling which attaches an email signature with every email the agent sends through Chatwoot. The placeholder in this setting could give ideas to the user on how to write the signature. Something like: "Take a deep breath and start crafting your email signature here. You can include your title, social media links, contact deets, and, maybe, a touch of humor?”
3. Merge the placeholder and the field name, as Google does it.
What to punctuate and when to ditch it?
Punctuation is good to maintain throughout. It shows sincerity and professionalism. It is a win-win for users who care about it and those who don’t. The possible exceptions here would be:
- Headings and subheadings unless they turn out to be a really long sentence and demand a sentence structure for better understanding.
- Things that require you to wait for something or look forward to something, like loading messages. These can generally be affixed with “…”. For e.g., "Fetching messages..."
Title vs. sentence case
Both the title and sentence cases are important in their own ways. It's important to determine in what capacity do you need them to act. Here's our take:
The title case is for establishing authority on the things that are indeed authoritative, according to your brand. Use it for the things that must demand attention – like a core feature. In Chatwoot, we are going to use the title case for settings pages of our core features, such as "Canned Responses", "Custom Attributes", etc.
Other than that, sentence cases are great for UX as they are easier for the eyes to read. So, you can consider making them a standard everywhere.
Humanize the writing
This one’s a no-brainer. Here are a few points to remember:
- Avoid jargon unless you have a specialized audience at the other end of the screen. It’s best to have relatable words. If jargon means the name of a feature, explain it in a sidebar/help text and link it with an explanatory doc if possible.
- Concise is good. Lacking character is not. You could write “Fetching results…” or you could write “Just a minute…laughing at your email address.” One of those stays longer with the user and makes them smile. Of course, keep the message consistent with the personality of your brand as determined in the first step.
- Avoid negative connotations. Sound positive. Build positive associations with your brand and keep the users positive and forward-looking always for a pleasant experience. E.g., It’s better to write, “Let’s start by adding your first inbox.” than “You don’t have any inboxes.”
Keep important words on top
This is because everyone is in a hurry and has short attention spans. When is the last time you read everything? You probably just scanned through the information. While scanning, we tend to subconsciously focus more on the first couple of words of every sentence.
So before writing your product copy, we recommend laying out the most important takeaways first. Then, design your paragraphs keeping those important points on top and towards the starting of the subsequent sentences.
Design thoughtful CTAs
CTAs are extremely important to inspire action. The best way to write and design any CTA is to make sure you catch the nerve of the customer. Other than that, here are some best practices:
- The CTA should be easily distinguishable from the rest of the copy. It shouldn’t require effort on the user’s end to find it and take the required action.
- Use action verbs. “Create”, “Download”, “Sign up” are some basic examples.
- You can A/B test with an extended version of the CTA. For e.g., “Sign up and start your free trial” vs “Sign up”.
Casual is nice! :D
If you can add a touch of friendly humor to your copy, go for it (unless it goes against your brand identity)! Just don’t overkill it by forcing it or using it for every piece of content. Let it appear only at a few places. Here are a couple of examples from our copy:
Filter delete error: “Oops, looks like we can't save nothing! Please add at least one filter to save it.”
emoji error message: “Hmm, it seems we couldn't find any emoji that match your search. Perhaps try another keyword?”
SEARCH_404: “We couldn't find any labels that match your search. It's like searching for a unicorn, so try something else?”
Write with clarity
Here are some good practices to structure your writing for maximum clarity:
- Be straightforward. Write in simple language that everyone can understand.
- Use short sentences and paragraphs.
- Use active voice instead of passive voice.
Consistency really is the key
Here are some points to keep in mind with regards to consistency:
- Keep the language consistent throughout the product. This is important for building trust with users.
- Use the same terminology and phrasing across the product.
- Keep the copy consistent with the brand identity.
That’s it, folks! These are the principles we are trying actively and consistently incorporate in our ongoing exercise to improving UX copy. As we learn new things, we will be sure to share them with you. Does your team have any principles you swear by? Let us know. ✉️
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