I’m often asked, “We don’t have a UX writer — what should we do?” The answer is simple: Hire one! But when that’s not possible, what can the stakeholders do who end up writing the product copy? Sometimes that’s product owners or designers or developers. It can also be marketers and technical writers. In some companies it’s simply anyone who speaks the language of the interface. I’ve collected some tips for people who find themselves in this position.

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Ask if it’s clear, concise, helpful

This may seem pretty basic but when you treat this dogma as a checklist, you might find yourself making revisions. Maybe you were focused on sounding conversational when writing your first draft, but then you go back and catch that it came at the expense of being concise. It’s nice to be in natural conversation with your user, but if you’re verbose, they won’t want to be in conversation with you. …

Putting your users’ needs (and words) first

When I was a stupid teenager, we had a thing where we’d add “in bed” to fortunes in fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants. “You will have much success this year… in bed”. “Great things will come to you if you are open to them… in bed”. Teenagers 🤷‍♀️

It just struck me that there’s a parallel in the world of UX writing/content design and best practices. To every best practice, add, “if it serves your users”. “Be concise… if it serves your users”. “Use plain language if it serves your users”. And so on.

Concise

I’ve been saying this about “be concise” for ages. I work in complex products, that’s my niche within the UX writing/content design world. I wrote a genetics product where I guarantee you that explaining to consumers the results of their polygenic risk scores more concisely would have been a very bad thing because in this case, concise was not what would serve them. Concise would not offer them value, they would not walk away understanding the product at all. They would not trust our brand or recommend us to their friends. Concise is a best practice that would have taken away from the user experience, not added to it. …

Nuggets of wisdom I took away from the talks — not comprehensive summaries

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This is how much fun we all had speaking at (and participating in!) Button

Vicki Siolos: Generating impact as a team of one

  • When seeking feedback, don’t ask stakeholders, “What do you think?” Ask yes/no questions to protect against stakeholders’ bias and get the most productive, focused, useful feedback.
  • When writing for a multilingual interface, Google translate your copy into another language to check length, and then translate it BACK to the original language for insight into alternatives that may work better, even in the original language. In other words, take an English string, translate to German, then take the German and translate it BACK into English, and that final output may include material improvements over what you had written originally.
  • Apply your UI style guide to internal communications. …

Button 2020 — THE product content conference

Woah!

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The first Button conference for product content just ended and it was a smashing success. Out of breath from all of the thoughts and feels wrestling their way into words at once, I babbled at my husband over dinner Friday night, waves of half sentences containing double thoughts. There was just so much going on.

The main thing was community. The exceptional warmth of the community at Button was unexpected, I think , even by the people who planned it. So much thought and creativity was put into creating community against the many odds that include, of course, the conference begin virtual, and yet I bet even the great minds and hearts behind it could not have anticipated what a success it would be. …

How technical constraints shape microcopy

The words users see on the screen are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to UX writing. There is so much going on under the surface that the end-user doesn’t know. I am reminded of this time and time again when I see screenshots of microcopy on social media with long threads trashing them as so obviously off the mark, so obviously in violation of basic rules, when there are 101 reasons that the string that ended up in production is actually the very best choice out there. …

Summary of a panel discussion at UX Salon Words 2020

At the UX Salon Words 2020 conference yesterday, I had the awesome opportunity to moderate a panel about starting a career in UX writing! Jen Schaefer of Netflix, Roy West previously of Uber and Google, and Nora Ginio of Wix shared their invaluable insights! Here are some takeaways if you couldn’t make it.

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When you’re hiring, what are you looking for?

Writing samples. Well crafted, thoughtful writing can be more important than the resume itself. There still aren’t many rich UX writing resumes out there so writing samples are a great way to show your skills. Journalistic, documentation, and other types of writing samples work. From there it’s on the hiring managers to analyze the writing through the lens of “How would this translate to UX?” Take copy that was not written for a UI and describe how decisions made there are applicable to UX writing. …

An honest look from a tired working mother

This is not the type of thing I normally post… I think only like 3 of my almost 50 posts are not strictly about UX writing. But the whole COVID situation is a deep part of the global human experience right now permeating everything, now, including this blog.

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Part 1: Quarantine begins

At the beginning of the pandemic I live in the most quarantined neighborhood in the country. (I still live there, we just aren’t the most quarantined anymore.) I personally know several people who had corona and many families with more than one member in isolation at a time, in different rooms in the same house. We know small children who were in isolation, requiring one parent to endanger their health by being closed in with them and the other to handle everyone and everything else. (I’d definitely rather be exposed to corona than be that second parent…) Men and women in hazmat suits sprayed down all of our local public spaces including parks and playgrounds. Before they started, announcements were made on loudspeakers to get in the house. One kid heard the alarm and asked her mom, “Does this mean we go into bomb shelters now?” Let that sink in. …

We’ve all heard about the importance of writing conversational copy. But what does that actually mean? How should the inevitable pushback be addressed?

Conversational

“Conversational” simply means writing how a human would talk and not like a computer.

For example, that might mean using positive contractions, e.g., I’ll, we’re. (Negative contractions are not in line with the Readability Guidelines, though every rule has exceptions. My personal rule of thumb has been to err on the side of not using negative contractions, making exceptions for very light situations where the message does not have a lot of gravity. For example, I would write, “You are not approved”, not “aren’t approved”, because that’s heavy, but I’d be OK with, “Not your jam? …

I had a lot of fun being interviewed on the Hebrew-language Mozzarella product podcast! Seeing as only 1% of people in the world speak Hebrew, I wrote up a translated transcript. (I also threw in some links…because in writing, I can.) Enjoy!

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Tell us a little about yourself.

I moved to Israel from the States in 2007. Before I moved to Israel, I did a BA in journalism at NYU. After I moved to Israel I switched tracks and did a masters and PhD in neurobiology at the Hebrew University. After all of that I realized I didn’t want to be a journalist or a scientist but I combined those experiences into what I’m doing now: I’m a UX writer for complex products. …

Microcopy challenges and solutions for products serving diverse segments

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We talk a lot about developing a strong voice and expressing it consistently; writing content that addresses our users’ pain and terminology that resonates and garners trust. But what’s a UX writer to do when we must connect with two very different audiences?

In fintech, this comes up a lot, because when a financial transaction happens, there are usually (at least) two sides involved. At Fundbox, we have a payments platform which is completely dependant on both buyers and sellers engaging with the same product.

Before I describe some of our challenges, methodologies, solutions, and how they can be applied to other products, I’ll explain real quick how our payments platform works. …

About

Yael Ben-David

UX writer specializing in complex products. Passionate about making tech accessible to mass markets. Also a proud em dash enthusiast.

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