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UX writing and why you should ditch politeness

A UX writer’s job is to write copy for apps and text for buttons. As a UX writer you can add value (read: give second opinion) about the flow of your digital product once it’s complemented with text. It makes for improved user experience.

You have to look at the copy from three angles:

  • Clarity
  • Conciseness
  • Usefulness

To say “please” and “thank you” is the opposite of above. When you’re asking a visitor to perform or take an action, and if you continue to say “please subscribe to my email newsletter”, etc. it’s likely things will go out of hand.

Folks today have limited attention span and mostly scroll your website on their phones. When you say, thank you each time they decide to interact with your website or app, it doesn’t look good. If you’ve ordered coffee through a mobile app, the user doesn’t want you telling them thank you for providing us with business. Instead a message saying, “your cappuccino order is received and will be ready at 9.00 am”, is best suited.

That’s clarity in your UX copy.

Similarly, using “please enter your email or username” is incorrect. It goes against the principle of conciseness. Ever wonder why it simply says “enter your email or username”? Because it’s to the point. The minimum number of words get the job done!

That’s not to say never say sorry or thank you, like ever

With businesses, there are instances where you must use sorry and thank you to let your user know of your concern or their value (not that they need you to remind them of it). But it’s a best practice. So for example, if your web page is down and your servers aren’t up due to maintenance or some issue…

Your 404 page may read, “Sorry but that doesn’t happen very often. Try again later” or something to that effect.

If you’re an app developer and someone supports your efforts by making a donation or buying the app’s premium version, a thank you in this case will go a long way. So do not shy away from thanking them. Don’t go overboard though.

Inspire confidence in your user

Imagine a restaurant where a waiter continues to tell you that he’s sorry to have you waiting or that he’s sorry that your favorite item isn’t on the menu or it has taken longer than expected for your order to arrive.

Overall, it won’t inspire confidence and your idea about the place’s usefulness in serving meals will dim.

Therefore, if you’re an e-commerce store, and you ran out of the iPhone series, do not apologize. These aren’t under your control. Stock runs out even for the biggest chains in the world. Supply chain or logistics issues can happen to anyone. However, don’t be an ass about it either, “so what if we don’t have the iPhone series listed, go buy something else for yourself”. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Here, what your copy can do is help the user move forward to keep them invested and their experience pleasant. Say, “reserve your iPhone model” so they’re informed of when it’s back in stock. They can then order it and complete the purchase.

Get to it

Removing unnecessary words or politeness, enables you to deliver the message in fewer words. I’ve undertaken several exercises to improve my UX copy skills by checking out a web copy and removing unwanted words from it.

Try it yourself and see how many you can find.

To sum up, as a UX writer your job is to make sure the user actually cares about what’s being said. Secondly, write with the intent as if you’re another pair of eyes contributing to the design.

Usamansari | Writer at large

Loves to read and watch movies & TV shows | On weekends you'd find me crushing it in the Call of Duty: Mobile | On my way to becoming a Fullstack Web Developer.

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