This is an excerpt from our upcoming UX Writing book, exploring how we (as designers and copywriters) can write copy that helps people use and love our products. Sign up for book updates here.
The three hallmarks of good UX copy: Clear, concise and useful. Here we will discuss how to write concisely. We will keep it short.
At this point, we’re all aware that people read about 20% of the words on a web page. If your copy’s too long, they either won’t read it or they will read it, because they have to, and get frustrated by it.
When it comes to UX copy, people shouldn't have to "read" it at all. UX copy should be understood and acted upon at a glance, without much thought or labor. When executed well within a design, it's almost telecommunication, part of a continuous movement between your product and the user. If your copy's too long, the movement becomes slow and awkward.
First, a list of cumbersome phrases and words you can nearly always cut from your UX copy:
“In order to”
Too long: “In order to add this item to your cart, you must select a size.”
Better: “To add this item to your cart, select a size.”
Even better: “Select a size.”
Too long: “This will overwrite the settings that you already selected.” Better: “This will overwrite the settings you already selected.” Even better: “This will overwrite your previous settings.”
Too long: “Please note, this will change your settings globally.” Better: “This will change your settings globally.”
“It is recommended to” or “We recommend”
If you’re stating it, we can assume you’re recommending it. Cut it and get straight to your point.
Too long: “You must select a size first.” Better: “Select a size.”
Too long: “There is an issue with the server.” Better: “The server is down.”
(The first example here is also passive voice. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
Other practices that will help you write succinct, efficient copy:
Make use of progressive disclosure
Pretend you’re playing a video game. A wizard stops you in your path and asks, “Do you want an amulet or a healing crystal?” You answer crystal. The wizard then reveals the path to the crystal. When you secure the crystal, the wizard appears again, pointing you to your next goal.
The wizard doesn’t reveal all the information upfront. He only points you to your next destination, giving you the information you need at the time you need it, nothing more. This is called progressive disclosure, and it's important to a successful user flow.
Only include the information your user needs to know right now, at this step in their journey. It will naturally help you write concisely, one sentence at a time rather than one heavy paragraph at a time.
Avoid passive voice
We’ve talked about this before, and we’ll keep hammering it in until it sticks. With a few exceptions, passive voice makes your sentences clunky and confusing. A good way to avoid passive voice: Start your sentence with a verb.
Passive voice: “The date should be entered in a 00/00/0000 format.” Active voice: “Use 00/00/0000 format”
See how much easier and faster that is to read? Works better visually too.
Important: While do you want your copy to be brief and scannable, concise does not only = short. You don’t want your UX copy to sound robotic. You want it to be clean and efficient.
For more UX copywriting tips, read our other articles from this series: