Design and UX May 20, 2020

How to Write Great Microcopy (40 pro-tips)

Anthony Diké @antdke

1) Be clear, concise, and useful

Duh. This one’s obvious.

People don’t like being forced to read. Identify the most important info and say that.

Be clear

2) Use consistent wording

Another obvious one —don’t use synonyms.

If one button says “Next”, don’t also use “Proceed” or "Continue” for other buttons.

Inconsistency confuses users. They may think “Next” and “Proceed” lead to different results.

Be consistent

3) Create a microcopy framework

To ensure your wording stays consistent, create a doc for you and your team that houses your most common words.

Get everyone singing the same song.

Create a microcopy framework

4) Be conversational

Talk like two co-workers over lunch —casual, friendly tone in a professional setting.

Be conversational

5) Use humor and idioms carefully

The tone is casual, but the same jokes can get stale.

Or even worse, no one gets it.

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6) Highlight your brand’s character

Even so, make routine tasks memorable by adding a bit of flair.

If your brand is playful, don’t be afraid to add emojis.

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7) Be wary of word translations

You wouldn’t want your product to break in other countries, right?

Here’s a good article from Dropbox to help with this.

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8) (Almost) always use the active voice

It’s stronger and easier to understand than the passive voice.

Use it when you need to signal who or what caused an action.

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9) Use the passive voice (sometimes)

It has its place.

Use it when the action is more important than what caused the action (aka the subject)

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10) Provide context

Answer this question for the user: “Why exactly am I here?”

Focus on relevance.

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11) Assume your user is smart

Everyone knows what to do when they see a form.

Save your breath.

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12) Keep it scannable

Reading is work. Every word takes energy. Users like to save energy by skimming.

Leave out the unimportant. They’ll get the gist.

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13) Write short paragraphs and sentences

Keep ‘em short and snappy.

snap snap

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14) Don’t overuse contractions

They make text sound informal and easier to read.

Overused, they become distracting and can make text look messy.

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15) When to use sentence case

Sentence case is when you only capitalize the first letter of the first word in a phrase.

Use it most of the time —especially for buttons and links.

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16) When to use title case

Title case is when you capitalize the first letter of each word, besides small words like conjunctions and prepositions.

Use it for phrases 2-3 words long —6 max.

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17) Capitalize proper names & terms

Don’t capitalize unless they’re proper terms, branded terms, or terms for a specific functionality.

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18) When to use “Your”

When using “your” the product feels like a personal assistant. It should be used in a social, collaborative setting —like a project management app or a smart device.

Use it for what the product creates for the user.

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19) When to use “My”

“My” implies individual control and ownership. It should be used where data is sensitive and a sense of security is needed —like a tax return site.

Use it for what the user creates in the product.

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20) Keep ‘em calm

Point out concerning actions before your user has time to question your motives.

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21) Refer to the user

Use you and your to address the user directly.

However, using a personal pronoun isn’t necessary in cases where you’re not distinguishing items that belong to the user from items that belong to others.

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22) Identify interactive elements

Use action verbs.

People should be able to tell at a glance what an element does.

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23) Start with verbs

It’s more direct and hooks the user’s attention.

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24) Prompt action

Remember this: InformationAction

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25) Motivate action

Sometimes, people need a little nudge.

Give them training wheels that will subconsciously disappear over time.

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26) Set expectations

Show users what they should expect.

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27) Instruct action

Inform users how to perform an action.

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28) Show progress during actions

Reassure the user that what they want is on the way.

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29) Give feedback after actions

Reassure the user that what they want has been completed.

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30) Use constructive feedback model

Empower the user.

If they can have new abilities, emphasize it.“Yes, and…”

If they can’t do something, tell them why and how they can fix it.“No, because…”

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31) Avoid destructive feedback

It’s unhelpful and depressing.

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32) Create positive moments

People will remember how you made them feel.

Bring delight.

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33) Pair visuals with words

The right visuals paired with the right words emphasize the message.

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34) Be consistent with imagery

Similar to consistency with words —inconsistency of visuals can confuses users.

Unless you plan to shift the visuals entirely to pair with a shift in the messaging.

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35) Use familiar words and phrases

In general, avoid acronyms and technical sayings that people might not understand.

Use what you know about your audience to determine what’s appropriate.

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36) Spell out numbers up to nine

In body copy, spell out numbers up to nine.

Use numerals after 10.

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37) Reassure users with social proof

Show the user that they’re making the right choice in using your product.

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38) Pick the right moments

Show only what’s necessary —when it’s necessary.

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39) Test and improve

Experiment and see how people respond. Iterate, test, and improve what needs work.

Contextualized wording is better than generic wording.

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40) Think: “How can I improve your life?”

No one cares about what you can do. They only care about what you can do for them.

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Whew.

I know, it’s pretty long. But I hope it’s helpful for you and your team.

You can find more content like this in my newsletter.

I’d also appreciate if you could show love to my twitter thread about it. If you can’t, no worries :)

    1. 1

      No problem 🙂

      thank for reading!

  1. 2

    Wow, very useful stuff. Thank you for sharing @antdke

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading! 😊

  2. 2

    Does anyone know a tool that would scan a page (an app?) and point out bad practices when it comes to microcopy? 😅

    1. 1

      Haha does a product like that exist?

      1. 1

        Nah... well, I’d be surprised if it does ;)

  3. 2

    Great stuff man! I think some of these are us devs being lazy 😅Like the 7th example - someone didn't make the button flexible enough to behave correctly when the word is longer (German, I'm looking at you!). Or 28th with the progress bar.

    With one, I'd be careful - I mean "11) Assume your user is smart". It really depends on your audience but I guess I know what you're trying to say. The whole design composition should be so easy that you don't have to explain too much.

    1. 2

      haha thanks 😊 & yeah I totally understand

      and that’s true, there’s nuance to #11. But yea, we should aim to make everything intuitive to avoid over explaining

  4. 2

    Thanks for so many actionable tips!
    I find copy is often overlooked in apps, but it's actually super important.. It can make or break the experience for the users. So always great to learn more about this :)

    1. 1

      couldn't agree more!

  5. 2

    Amazing tips , for developers who such at copy writing this is great !

    1. 1

      Haha thanks man 🙂 glad you find it useful!

      share it with your dev friends ;)

  6. 2

    Wow so awesome and useful pro tips. Thanks a lot!!! Do you have an alternative for first one and the 12 ? . Developers use "vague words" sometimes for security reasons.

    1. 2

      Good point.

      This might work:

      Invalid log in

      Try again // recover your password

      What do you think of that?

      1. 2

        It is better, thanks :)

  7. 2

    Love these tips :) Thanks for compiling and sharing them

    1. 2

      Thanks for reading dude 😊

      Glad you like them

  8. 2

    This is great stuff! Thanks for sharing it.

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading 😊

  9. 2

    Great list.

    I really enjoy reading your newsletter (even though didn't get to read last 5-6 issues, but have them queued). Any reason why the newsletter hasn't grown over 4000 readers? I think the content is really high quality.

    1. 1

      haha thanks 😊

      I haven’t updated the number on the site haha. I think I’m at 4,300.

      I also haven’t been promoting it a lot because I want to nail down the content quality.

      what do you think of short issues? I’m think that may be better for reading over email

      to prevent mental strain

      1. 1

        I do think your emails are longer than the normal newsletters, that's why I usually postpone reading them. I am not saying this is a bad thing, I like them, only that I use them more as a "for later reading list" than a "cool, a newsletter, let's read it quickly".

        1. 1

          that’s great feedback! thank you

          I’ll test out doing a super short one next and see what happens

  10. 2

    Wow that list is comprehensive. I appreciate you taking the time and I am bookmarking this.

    One thing I will disagree with is "assume your customers are smart". My previous startup focused on small businesses who were not tech-savvy. When I didn't write out things and clearly explain, they would get stuck. Drove my head of product design crazy but you have to speak your customers' language.

    1. 1

      Haha that’s true. That nuance does exist

      Thanks for pointing it out 🙂

      What product were you selling with that startup? Aw man, I feel bad for your product design lead lol

      1. 1

        Influencer marketplace for small businesses. Many were using influencers for the first time so I would test each page on my mom to make sure it was simple enough lol.

        1. 1

          haha clever

          a literal “mom test” 😂

  11. 2

    Great tips, Anthony! Pretty long post but found a few tips I'll be using 😊

    1. 2

      Glad you found it useful Gabriel 🙂

      Yea it’s very long lol. Wanted to try out a full comprehensive list and see what the reception would be like

      1. 2

        Just thinking out loud – any chance of turning this into a poster compilation? So one could just click and see all the examples there. Heck, could even frame it up on a wall as a reminder of sorts? 🤔

        1. 1

          an interesting idea

          I’ll think about that

          Thanks for the suggestion:)

  12. 2

    Excellent post but you put the wrong URL in your call to action!

    It should be this guys: https://theproductperson.com/

    1. 1

      haha yeah thanks man

      wow what a blunder by me

  13. 1

    This comment was deleted 8 months ago.

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