UX Writing And What Kids Can Teach You

On New Year’s Day I took my 4-year old twins to the park. Having recently shown interest in moving from the secure push swings to the free-wheeling DIY swings, I thought they could use some direction on the art of self-swinging.

“You need to stick your feet out when you go up, and tuck them in when you come down”. So far so good, I thought to myself. I’m nailing this. “Lean back when you go up, and move forward when you come down to gain momentum”. Blank expressions. I’ve lost them, I thought. “Pull the chain when you lean back and push it when you move forward”. 

“Push us, daddy”, they said. And that was that.  

As parents we try to explain things to our kids in simple ways they can understand. In this case, I tried and I failed.

But I wasn’t giving up. Not on New Year’s Day, dammit! I thought back to my UX training: be clear, concise, and useful. 

Clear

Choose your verbs carefully as these relate an action to the user. 

Concise

Put important concepts first and ruthlessly edit what comes after.

Useful

Put the user first. Write in a way that directs the next action.

After a few gentle pushes to appease their demands, I tried again to explain.

“Lean back and straighten your legs, then move forward and bend your legs.”

About 40 words condensed into 13. But it still wasn’t getting through. What’s the simplest, most direct way I could explain how to swing yourself on a swing, I thought, in a way that 4 year olds would understand.

Then I blurted out “Up legs, down legs”. I repeated it a few times as they went up and down, otherwise it wouldn’t have made much sense. Context was important, here.

Then something incredible happened. My little girl started gathering momentum. Then my boy followed, as is normally the way. I’m not gonna lie, this was one of my proudest moments as a father. I took a step back and did a little fist pump in the air. Small victories, right?

Language is a funny thing. It’s often the less words we say, the better we communicate. And like with my kids, it usually depends on context: whom we’re speaking to; where we’re speaking to them; and what they’re doing at that moment.

Brands often struggle with this when developing a user experience or across their customer experience. They don’t prioritise the user, fail to put important concepts first, and compromise clarity with superfluous verbs.

You can avoid these pitfalls by following the three UX writing best practices above (clear, concise, useful) and these many other rules and tips. And of course, hiring a professional freelance copywriter always helps too.

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