Chatbots

Small Words, Big Impact – 9 Tips to Become a Better UX Writer for Chatbots

Kazimierz Rajnerowicz
Updated

Who is a UX writer?

UX writers (User Experience Writers or Digital Content Designers, as they are known in the UK and Australia) are a new breed of specialists involved in software and web development. You can check IT job listings and discover that the unique skill set of a good UX writer is in high demand

Their approach and methods are becoming more and more popular. Why? Regular copywriters write to sell. UX writers, on the other hand, write to enhance the end-user experience – of browsing a website, using an app, or texting with a chatbot. In the long run, it can be far more important.

How does it look in practice? UX writers are somewhere between marketing and technical writing jobs. They primarily create small bits of content for button labels, messages, notifications, prompts, menus, and other elements of the user interface. It is called “microcopy” (don’t confuse it with microscopy!) – micro meaning small and copy, just like in the jargon of advertising, meaning the text content. 

As with poetry, a small number of words doesn’t make it any easier! Quite the opposite – the weight of every word becomes intimidating. UX writers deal with small words which can have a huge impact.

Let’s say that a company wants more users to sign up for their web platform. A UX writer can change the label of a menu button from Register to Sign Up Free and boost the acquisition of customers by 20%. Obviously, it is much more than replacing and rearranging some UI words. A change like this may be an element of a larger content strategy which should be based on a UX audit, research, brand identity, and many other factors.

Good practices of UX writing - an example from Shopify
Caption: Shopify uses many good practices of UX writing. Their homepage is clear, conversational, and engaging.

Interestingly, most of the rules used in UX writing apply to chatbots. After all, a chatbot is a pure case of communication between the user and the interface by means of text. UX writers make web pages and apps more conversational – in case of chatbots, this quality is implicit. 

A good microcopy paired with frictionless conversational design can turn your chatbot into a compelling customer experience asset.  

As a business owner, you may think – do I need to hire a UX writer? For a detailed overview of a complex app or website, it is probably a good idea. You can get some useful tips and insights. You may even want to have a full-time professional “UI words” wizard on your team. However, if you operate on a small scale or want to use the resources available at hand, you may want to try some first-aid universal microcopy solutions now.

The Nine UX Writing Tips & Examples to Help You Fix Some of the Most Common Issues

The Design Does Not Take Precedence over the Content

In the past, designers made mock-up layouts and filled them with the classical Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet dummy text formula. Copywriters prepared the content and the paths of the ones and the others never crossed.

Graphic designers and UX writers cooperating in design studio

This solution rarely produces a seamless customer experience. To create a useful app or website, you may want to consider a different approach in which the design and the content go hand-in-hand. 

When you decide what to communicate, the message can influence the design. In the case of chatbots, it may turn out that starting with the content can simplify the overall chatbot conversation flow. Don’t design the conversation and type in messages on the fly – begin with the thing you want to say.

Learn How to Use the UI Screen Estate

Buttons or chatbot Quick Reply messages can be tight places to write. You should make every pixel count and every letter matter. Use as few words as possible. Frequently, the context is clear, and you don’t need to elaborate on what happens when you click the button or choose one of the options suggested by the bot.

Omit the words which don’t contribute any meaning. In some cases, feel free to drop the articles and most of the prepositions. However, it may be a good idea to keep your pronouns and possessive determiners. Write You Completed the Tour instead of The Tour Is Completed, and Your Order instead of Order.

Use Progressive Disclosure to Improve Customer Experience 

Brevity is the soul of wit. And of UX writing as well. Users quickly become bored and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of visuals and texts on any website. The processing power of our brains is limited, and it is better to provide relevant information at the right time and in small (but sufficient) amounts.

The homepage of LinkedIn as an example of progressive disclosure
Caption: The homepage of LinkedIn provides only the key ideas behind their online service, but you can learn more on the subpages. The screen isn’t flooded with detailed information.

UX writers like to use the term “progressive disclosure”, which is self-explanatory. Focus on the most important information you want to convey and break it down into bite-sized pieces. Reveal them gradually and make them guide your customers. 

Chatbots are great in this type of situation because they can start with something general and narrow it down during the conversation. They can keep it sweet and to the point for most of the time, but they can also explain something in detail when they are specifically asked to.

Use Objective Tone or Add Some Personality to Your Chatbot/Website

Objective tone is employed in writing to shift the focus from the author towards the text and the message. When employed, it can make a piece of writing sound authoritative, omniscient, and unbiased. Simply get rid of I, me, and my, avoid personal insights, try to be a tad more formal, and here you are!

Notice the difference between active and passive voice. The passive voice makes your writing sound more impersonal and formal, which can be a good thing, but it is hard to read. 

The objective tone always seems more reassuring and concise to the user. Most of the time, it should be the default tone of your interface. However, it may be nice to sprinkle some personality on the top. Emotions and character can help to connect with the users on a more intimate and personal level.

Mailchimp examples of microcopy
Mailchimp combines objective tone for the functional elements of their interface and humor for the other microcopy to form a personal connection. It is concise and fun to use.

Throw Away Your Thesaurus – UI Words Should Be Simple

Don’t try to be fancy. Writing microcopy with a thesaurus may not be the best idea. Don’t use smart-sounding synonyms. Even the regular ones, such as order/purchase, may sometimes be confusing. Don’t refer to the same actions with different words each and every time.

If you focus too much on creative word choices and elegant style, you risk sounding pompous and pretentious. Users of the chatbot will not appreciate the literary merit of the messages they receive. A chatbot is, first and foremost, an interface that is supposed to help users accomplish specific tasks.

You can use humor to create engaging chatbot messages, but be careful. A chatbot welcome message can sound cute and funny to first-time visitors, but after multiple interactions, it can get irritating. On their second or third visit, they may think: That joke isn’t funny anymore.

Avoid Confusing Logic & Dark UX

It may be tempting to trick users into clicking something they don’t want to. Confusing them with words, double negatives, and fake signals is a low blow. Even when they want to perform an action that is not beneficial to your business – like resigning or canceling an order – you should think about their convenience.

An example of dark UX patterns and confusing button labels
An example of confusing button labels

Conversely, you should be transparent and acknowledge what is going on when, for instance, someone accidentally buys something twice from your online store. 

Microcopy Should Clarify & Reassure

If the user encounters a problem, you must explain how to take care of it. Whey you notify the users about the issue you shouldn’t leave them hanging. Give them a hint!

Clarify and reassure of microcopy
The chatbot notifies the user about the problem and gives and immediately suggests how to deal with it.

Be clear about your intentions (or lack thereof). Information such as this – We promise not to spam or post anything on your Facebook can calm the users down and encourage them to create an account on your website. You may know your platform or product, but the users don’t. Be reassuring and make things clear. When they are in doubt, they may resign from completing their purchase or using the platform altogether.

Typeform microcopy example
Caption: A transparent and reassuring microcopy from www.typeform.com

Stick to the Content Strategy

UX writing and microcopy should reflect the content strategy of a company. One person can be both a content strategist and microcopy writer – who starts from nothing and creates a coherent content vision from scratch. Usually, UX writers join the party later on and take clues from the existing brand identity/content strategies.

Transparent and useful microcopy example
Caption: LEGO keeps the microcopy transparent, useful, and cohesive with their content strategy.   

A UX writer may be briefed on the brand voice and the general rules of using it. Let’s say that a certain company wants to appear more professional, resolute, and decisive. To achieve that, the UX writer will make their website content and their chatbot more formal, and will restrain from using words such as “please” and “sorry”. It may seem counterintuitive, but sounding confident and reassuring – instead of servile – could have been the part of the strategy.

Make A/B Tests for Notifications and Chatbot Messages

UX design, as well as UX writing, is never complete. You can’t move on without looking back at the performance of your solution. Use data analytics to make adjustments. It may be useful to try A/B tests. Change the label of a given button and see how it affects the amount of clicks. Try different types of welcome messages. See if it changes the number of people who interact with your chatbot.

Practice Makes Perfect (Chatbots)

UX writing has a promising future. Katharine Schwab from Fast Company notices:

As chatbots and conversational interfaces become more popular, writing becomes the vehicle for experience design. 

You should remember that UX writing is always contextual and you should integrate it with your general UX flow. Keep in mind that microcopy should feel like bits of conversation. Be short and snappy. Communicate and focus on the users and their needs.

Try writing your own microcopy by changing text fields of Tidio Live Chat widget, making chatbots with the editor, and customizing the messages sent to the users!

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