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What is microcopy?

Esmee Lewis
Junior Researcher

Microcopy is a component of UX writing, sometimes referred to as UI text.

Microcopy simply assists users in utilising a digital product’s features and functionalities. For instance, the phrase on a website that informs a user where to sign up or log in is microcopy.

Examples of microcopy written by UX writers include small components of text like:

  • Button labels
  • Forms
  • Navigation menus
  • Error messages
  • Security notes
  • CTA messages 
  • Disclaimers
  • On-screen help text
  • Notifications

 

Microcopy comes:

  • Before the action: to motivate users to act, like in CTAs
  • During the action: in control labels, assistive copy, hints, tooltips and buttons – all the guidance we give to users
  • After the action: error messages if something went wrong, or success messages if the action was completed as intended

 

Best practices:

  • Clear, concise and intuitive 

The purpose of microcopy is to aid users in getting from one stage to the next as smoothly as possible and keep them informed of what they are doing so they can carry out actions as quickly as possible. According to a 1997 Nielsen Norman study, a simple page comprised of a scannable layout and short copy contributes to a 124% increase in usability. Good microcopy is not wordy, lengthy or confusing but compact, unambiguous and concise. Every day, simple words that users are familiar with are the easiest to understand, so jargon should be avoided. 

 

  • Visible

Any essential or relevant microcopy should always be visible to users, such as the information to be entered in a form or what will happen when a button is clicked. Tooltips should not be used to show critical details. 

 

  • Conversational

Microcopy plays a significant role in communicating the tone of an app or website. There might be aspects of the user experience that might be overwhelming for users, such as error messages, so maintaining a friendly and relaxed tone (given that it is suitable for the organisation’s brand) is crucial to ease users through interactions on the digital product. Where possible, ask users questions to create a natural, conversational feel (e.g. ‘How would you like to pay?’). Use the active rather than the passive voice, and address the user where possible by using connecting words (e.g. ‘your order details’ rather than ‘order details’).

 

  • Defined voice and tone

Always consider the organisation’s tone and voice when writing microcopy. Ensure that it is consistent with the brand’s positioning – depending on how the voice is defined, the microcopy might be witty, personable, or serious. Explore the organisation’s branding information to understand their voice, such as incorporating feedback from key stakeholders into the mission, vision and brand personality. Target audience research is also vital in developing a defined voice and tone. 

 

  • Consistent

Microcopy should be written in a manner that is consistent with the product’s brand characteristics. Internal consistency is imperative: the same language should be used when referring to the same functions, features or elements throughout the product. For example, when labelling CTA buttons, ensure they are named consistently across the pages and screens. 

 

  • Lead with benefit

As users typically don’t read the majority of microcopy and tend to focus on the first part of a sentence, delivering the user value first increases the likelihood of capturing their attention and convincing them to take a specific action. Show users the benefits of taking the following action (e.g. the benefit of convenience such as “read with our free app”). 

 

  • Contextualised

Contextualise microcopy wherever possible. For instance, rather than saying ‘click here’, try ‘download now’ or ‘subscribe’ to describe the goal or action of the button as much as possible for further clarity.

 

  • Reduce fear

Around CTA buttons, microcopy should anticipate and reduce frictions or barriers that the user might have towards making an action. Alleviate fear by using microcopy such as ‘no spam’, ‘your data will not be sold’, ‘free forever’, or explaining why their information might be needed.

 

  • Useful error states 

Errors are a significant barrier to conversion and cause many users to abandon sites. Write an error state microcopy that helps users to correct their errors and move to the next stage of the customer journey. It’s insufficient to merely define the error – explain how users can solve it. 

 

  • Avoid directional language

Users can often misinterpret directions such as ‘above’, ‘below’, ‘left’, and ‘right’, and users with screen readers won’t have right or left as a reference. Instead, ensure that elements are straightforward for users so that directions are not required to be followed. 

 

  • The right font, size and weight

Fonts determine the legibility of the microcopy, as users can’t complete actions if they cannot see them. Avoid using a variety of fonts by referring to a style guide to maintain consistency between the microcopy and other UI elements. Use a legible font size and use bolding sparingly. To emphasise text without bolding, increase the font size and padding, and ensure enough white space around the microcopy to make it stand out.

 

  • The right text colour 

Since colour contrast helps draw attention to microcopy, ensure that the colour contrast is high enough and conforms to web accessibility guidelines.

 

  • Authenticity

Ensure transparency and honesty across all CTAs, as microcopy is there to inform and help users rather than trick them or shame them into taking action.

 

To conclude

The best microcopy is visible, straightforward, and aligned with an organisation’s brand positioning. Good microcopy enables users to complete actions on a digital product, builds trust and empathy with users, and consequently drives conversions and increases brand loyalty.

 

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