User experience (UX) design has become increasingly important in our daily lives as technology becomes more ubiquitous. In order to create intuitive and user-friendly products, UX writing is vital. A product’s success depends on its ability to communicate clearly and effectively with its users. To create a seamless user experience, UX writers must follow certain writing principles and be proficient in their craft.
In the world of writing, “The Elements of Style” is widely regarded as a classic by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Writing guides like this have been used by writers for over a century, and they are still relevant today. For writers, including UX writers, the book provides an excellent framework for creating clear and effective copy by providing elementary rules of usage, principles of composition, and style recommendations.
The purpose of this UX writing guide is to distill the essential principles of “The Elements of Style” into useful advice for those who write for digital products. UX writers can create text that is easy to read, understand, and act upon by following these principles. It will provide examples of how each of the 21 principles presented in “The Elements of Style” can be applied to UX writing.
This guide is based on the principles of use presented in “The Elements of Style,” a classic reference work on effective writing. When applied to UX writing, these principles can help you produce clear, concise, and effective content. In this guide, we will cover 21 principles:
- Use clear and concise language to convey your message.
- Use commas to separate items in a list, and before the final “and.”
- Use parentheses sparingly to clarify or provide additional information.
- Use commas before conjunctions to separate independent clauses.
- Avoid breaking a single thought into multiple sentences.
- Use active voice to make your writing more engaging and effective.
- Use positive statements to provide clarity and avoid confusion.
- Use specific language to convey precise meaning.
- Avoid using unnecessary words or phrases that do not add value to your writing.
- Use a mix of short and long sentences for a varied and interesting reading experience.
- Use similar structures for coordinating ideas to make your writing more organized and easier to understand.
- Keep related words and concepts together to improve the flow of your writing.
- Use the same tense consistently throughout summaries and other related sections.
- Place important or emphasized words at the end of a sentence for maximum impact.
- Use the appropriate pronoun case for clear and accurate communication.
- Ensure that any participial phrases at the beginning of a sentence are clearly referring to the correct subject.
- Choose a consistent writing style and stick to it to ensure a coherent and professional product.
- Use paragraphs to break up large blocks of text and improve readability.
- Use active verbs to make your writing more engaging and effective.
- Use positive statements to convey the desired message.
- Use parallel construction to create a consistent and coherent message.
Further, you will learn how to write better copy for digital products regardless of your level of experience. When you apply the principles of “The Elements of Style” to your writing, you will create products that are intuitive, easy to use, and enjoyable to use.
1. Use clear and concise language to convey your message.
UX writing requires using language that is clear and easy to understand so that users can quickly grasp the information they need to interact with the product or service. You can convey the same information in both casual and formal styles by using the following examples:
- Simple: “Your account is ready to use.”
- Positive: “You’re all set to start using your account.”
- Personal: “You’re good to go!”
- Friendly: “Your account is set up and ready to use.”
- Direct: “You can now use your account.”
- Simple: “Your account is now active.”
- Positive: “Your account has been successfully activated.”
- Personal: “Your account is now ready for use.”
- Friendly: “We’re pleased to inform you that your account is now active.”
- Direct: “You now have access to your account.”
It is important to use direct, positive, and understandable language when writing casually or formally. UX writers can ensure that users can quickly and easily engage with a product or service by focusing on clear and concise messaging. A list format makes this information easier to scan, which makes it easier to see the main idea of the point at a glance.
2. Use commas to separate items in a list, and before the final “and.”
Whenever you write a list of items, use commas to separate each item, as well as the last one, which should be preceded by “and.” Here are some examples:
- Example: “Your profile includes your name, email, and date of birth.”
In this example, the comma separates each item in the list of information that the user is required to provide. The final “and” does not have a comma before it.
You should use commas to separate items in a list, regardless of whether you write in a casual or formal style. It’s important to remember that the final item in the list should be preceded by a comma, and the word “and.” This helps to avoid confusion and maintain consistency throughout your writing. As an added benefit, using lists to structure information makes it easier to scan and helps users find the information they need more quickly.
3. Use parentheses sparingly to clarify or provide additional information.
In your writing, parentheses can provide additional information or clarify a point. To avoid cluttering your text and confusing your readers, use them sparingly. Here are some examples of how to use parentheses correctly:
- The restaurant (which is new in town) has great food.
- I’m going on vacation next month (I’m going to Hawaii).
- My friend (who is a great cook) is coming over for dinner tonight.
- The restaurant (which recently opened in the area) has received great reviews.
- I’m taking time off work next month (specifically, from June 15th to June 30th).
- My colleague (who has extensive experience in the industry) will be speaking at the conference.
In casual and formal writing, parentheses should only be used when necessary to provide additional context or clarification. If you overuse parentheses, your writing may appear cluttered and difficult to read. To avoid disrupting the flow of the overall sentence, ensure the text within the parentheses is grammatically correct and stands alone as a complete sentence.
4. Use commas before conjunctions to separate independent clauses.
To ensure that your users can understand your message, use proper punctuation when writing interface text. It is important to keep in mind that independent clauses should be separated by commas before conjunctions.
As a sentence, an independent clause consists of a subject and a predicate. You should use a comma before conjunctions like “and,” “but,” and “or” to help separate two independent clauses and make your text easier to read.
To separate independent clauses in your interface text, use commas before conjunctions:
- Incorrect: We’ve received your payment and your order will be shipped soon.
- Correct: We’ve received your payment, and your order will be shipped soon.
- Incorrect: Please enter your email address or your phone number and we’ll send you a verification code.
- Correct: Please enter your email address or your phone number, and we’ll send you a verification code.
- Incorrect: To get started with your account, simply sign up and follow the prompts.
- Correct: To get started with your account, simply sign up, and follow the prompts.
To make your interface text more readable and understandable, use commas before conjunctions to separate independent clauses. Overall, this can improve the user experience.
In terms of tone and style, I would strive to maintain a friendly and approachable tone while remaining informative and clear. Making information more accessible to a wide range of users can also be achieved by using concrete examples and avoiding jargon.
5. Avoid breaking a single thought into multiple sentences.
Writing interface text should be clear and concise. A good way to accomplish this is to avoid breaking a single thought into several sentences.
By breaking a single thought into multiple sentences, you can make your message more difficult to understand for the user. Keep your sentences focused and cohesive, and aim to convey each thought within one sentence.
You can avoid breaking a single thought into multiple sentences by following these examples:
- Incorrect: Thank you for contacting us. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
- Correct: Thank you for contacting us, we’ll get back to you ASAP.
- Incorrect: The login process is easy. First, enter your email address. Then, enter your password. Finally, click the “submit” button.
- Correct: The login process is easy. Enter your email address and password, then click the “submit” button.
- Incorrect: Our software includes many features. For example, you can track your expenses. You can also generate reports.
- Correct: Our software includes many features, such as tracking your expenses and generating reports.
You can make your interface text more concise and easier to understand by avoiding breaking a single thought into multiple sentences. As a result, users may have a better overall experience.
6. Use active voice to make your writing more engaging and effective.
You can make your interface text more engaging and easier to understand by using active voice instead of passive voice. Passive voice emphasizes the action, while active voice emphasizes the person or object performing it. Using active voice in your interface text can look like this:
- Passive: Your account has been locked.
- Active: We’ve locked your account.
- Passive: An error was encountered.
- Active: We’ve encountered an error.
- Passive: The report will be generated.
- Active: We’ll generate the report.
- Passive: Your password was reset.
- Active: We’ve reset your password.
- Passive: Your message was received.
- Active: We’ve received your message.
Your interface text can be made more engaging and easier to understand by using active voice, which can result in a better user experience.
7. Use positive statements to provide clarity and avoid confusion.
In interface text, it is important to use positive statements to avoid confusion and provide clarity. Positive statements convey information in a direct and affirmative manner. Your message will be clearer and easier to understand if you use positive statements.
Negative statements, on the other hand, can be more difficult to interpret and can cause confusion. In order to provide clear and direct instructions, it is better to say “Please enter your password” instead of “Don’t forget to enter your password.”
Here are some examples of how you can use positive statements in your interface text to avoid confusion:
- Incorrect: You can’t proceed without filling out all the required fields.
- Correct: Please fill out all the required fields to proceed.
- Incorrect: Don’t forget to select your preferred language.
- Correct: Please select your preferred language.
- Incorrect: Your password must not be less than 8 characters.
- Correct: Please use at least 8 characters for your password.
You can make your user interface text more user-friendly and enhance the overall user experience by using positive statements to clarify and avoid confusion.
In terms of tone and style, I would strive to maintain a friendly and positive tone while still being clear and concise. It is also possible to make the information more accessible to a wider audience by using simple and direct language.
8. Use specific language to convey precise meaning.
The language you use when writing interface text should convey precise meaning. Using vague or general language can cause confusion and misunderstandings for users. Your message will be clear and easily understood if you use specific language.
The use of specific language can be accomplished by being specific about the steps the user needs to take. In place of using generic language like “click here,” it’s better to use specific language that tells the user what they are clicking on and what their actions will result in. For example, “Click the ‘Submit’ button to save your changes.”
Another way to use specific language is to describe the outcome or result of an action. Instead of saying “Your request has been received,” say “We have received your request and will contact you shortly.”
To convey precise meaning in your interface text, use specific language as follows:
- Vague: You have new messages.
- Specific: You have 3 new messages in your inbox.
- Vague: This feature is not available right now.
- Specific: This feature will be available in the next release.
- Vague: Click here to learn more.
- Specific: Learn more about our product features by clicking on this link.
When you use specific language to convey a precise meaning, you can help the user understand the interface text more easily, resulting in a better overall experience.
9. Avoid using unnecessary words or phrases that do not add value to your writing.
If you are writing interface text, avoid using unnecessary words or phrases that don’t add value. Your text will be more concise and easier to understand if you do this. Your message will be clear and effective if you are mindful of the words and phrases you use.
Avoiding unnecessary words or phrases can be achieved by eliminating redundancies. For example, instead of saying “free gift,” it’s better to simply say “gift.” Similarly, instead of saying “added bonus,” you can just say “bonus.”
You can also avoid unnecessary words or phrases by eliminating jargon or technical terms the user may not understand. Making your interface text more accessible can help you reach a wider audience. Instead, use simple and clear language that the user can understand.
You can avoid using unnecessary words or phrases in your interface text by following these examples:
- Unnecessary: Please be advised that you have successfully completed the registration process.
- Concise: Your registration is complete.
- Unnecessary: In the event that you need further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
- Concise: Contact us for assistance.
- Unnecessary: Please select your preferred color option from the following choices below.
- Concise: Select your preferred color.
You can make your interface text more efficient and effective by avoiding unnecessary words or phrases. Overall, this can improve the user experience.
I would aim to maintain a friendly and conversational tone while still being clear and concise. Making the information more accessible and user-friendly can also be achieved by using active voice and avoiding overly formal language.
10. Use a mix of short and long sentences for a varied and interesting reading experience.
To make interface text more interesting and varied, use a mix of short and long sentences. By doing so, you can keep the user engaged and make the information more understandable.
Brief sentences are useful for conveying straightforward information or emphasizing key points. They can provide a sense of rhythm and flow to longer, more complex sentences. For example:
- Get started now.
- Your account is now active.
- Thank you for your purchase.
Long sentences, on the other hand, are useful for explaining complex concepts or providing more detailed information. A sense of depth and substance can be conveyed through them. The most important thing is to ensure that long sentences are clear and easy to understand. For example:
- Before you can begin using the app, you will need to complete the registration process by entering your email address, creating a password, and agreeing to the terms of service, which include provisions for data privacy and security.
Creating a natural and conversational tone in your interface text can also be achieved by mixing short and long sentences. The information will feel more approachable and user-friendly this way.
The following examples show how to use a mix of short and long sentences in your interface text:
- Short sentence: Tap the button to continue.
- Long sentence: By tapping the button, you will be taken to the next step in the process, where you will be asked to provide additional information such as your name, address, and payment details.
- Short sentence: Your order is confirmed.
- Long sentence: Your order has been confirmed and is currently being processed. You will receive a confirmation email with your order details and estimated delivery date shortly.
- Short sentence: Sign up now.
- Long sentence: By signing up, you will gain access to exclusive offers and discounts, as well as the ability to save your preferences and order history for faster checkout in the future.
Combining short and long sentences can create a dynamic and engaging reading experience for the user, while also helping to make the information more accessible and understandable.
11. Use similar structures for coordinating ideas to make your writing more organized and easier to understand.
It is easier to understand and organize your writing if you use similar structures for coordinating ideas. When presenting multiple ideas or pieces of information, it is important to use a consistent structure to make it easier for the user to follow along and retain the information.
Using a parallel structure is one way to accomplish this. Each item in a list or series should have the same grammatical structure. For example:
- To get started with our app, you will need to download it, create an account, and customize your preferences.
Each item in the list follows the same structure of a verb followed by a noun phrase.
Consistent sentence structures are another way to use similar structures. If you are presenting a series of instructions, you might want to use the imperative mood for each step. A consistent structure makes it clear what action the user should take at each stage. For example:
- To complete your profile, click on the “Edit Profile” button, enter your information, and click “Save.”
Each step follows the same structure of an imperative verb followed by a noun phrase.
You can also create a more pleasing and harmonious flow to your writing by using similar structures. Ultimately, this will make it easier for the user to read and understand the information.
You can use similar structures in your interface text by following these examples:
- To access your account, click on the “Login” button, enter your email and password, and click “Submit.”
- To search for a product, enter your search term in the search bar, click “Search,” and browse the results.
- To complete your purchase, review your order details, enter your payment information, and click “Confirm Order.”
The use of similar structures can make your interface text more organized, easier to understand, and more pleasant to read. You can create a more harmonious and cohesive experience for the user by using consistent grammatical structures and sentence structures, which can ultimately contribute to a more positive overall experience.
12. Keep related words and concepts together to improve the flow of your writing.
Writing for UX involves keeping related words and concepts together in order to improve your text’s flow and clarity. It is easier for users to understand and retain information when it is presented logically.
Use transitional words and phrases, pronouns, and repetition to keep related words and concepts together. For example:
- Using transitional words: “First, we will ask for your name. Then, we will ask for your email address.”
- Using pronouns: “Once you’ve completed the registration process, your account will be created. You can then log in and start using the app.”
- Using repetition: “To get started with our app, you will need to download it, create an account, and customize your preferences. Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll be ready to start using the app.”
You can make information easier to understand and remember by grouping related words and concepts together. In interface text, users are often looking for specific information or instructions.
In your interface text, you should keep related words and concepts together:
- To create a new project, click on the “New Project” button, enter a name and description, and select a category.
- After you’ve selected your preferences, click on the “Save” button to apply the changes.
- To view your order history, click on the “Order History” tab, where you can see a list of your previous orders.
You can enhance a user’s understanding and experience by using cohesive devices and keeping related words and concepts together.
13. Use the same tense consistently throughout summaries and other related sections.
To improve readability and avoid confusion, it is important to use the same tense throughout summaries and related sections.
Readers may have difficulty following the flow of information if different tenses are used in the same piece of writing. Summary sections and related sections should provide a quick and clear overview of the information, especially in summaries.
The key to using the same tense consistently is to choose one that is appropriate for the context and stick with it throughout. If you’re writing a summary of a user’s activity on a website, you might describe their previous actions in the past tense:
- “Yesterday, the user visited the homepage, searched for a product, and added it to their cart.”
You can, however, use the present tense to describe the steps a user needs to follow if you are providing instructions:
- “Click on the ‘Add to Cart’ button, enter your shipping information, and complete the checkout process.”
In related sections of text, such as a series of steps or a list of features, consistency in tense is also important. You can provide a clear and easy-to-follow flow of information by using the same tense throughout these sections.
The following examples demonstrate how to use the same tense consistently throughout related sections:
- To get started with our app, you’ll need to download it, create an account, and customize your preferences.
- Our product features a sleek design, intuitive user interface, and advanced functionality.
- Follow these steps to reset your password: Enter your email address, click on the reset link, and create a new password.
You can provide a clear and organized flow of information to your users by using the same tense throughout summaries and related sections.
14. Place important or emphasized words at the end of a sentence for maximum impact.
Ending a sentence with important or emphasized words is a powerful way to leave a lasting impression on the reader. In UX writing, this principle helps to draw attention to key information, calls to action, and other important elements.
You create anticipation and help the reader focus on the most important parts of your message when you place important or emphasized words at the end of a sentence. As you build up to the key information or action, you create momentum and guide the user toward the desired outcome.
In the example below, important or emphasized words are placed at the end:
- “Sign up now for our exclusive offer and save 50% off your first purchase!”
- “Get started today and discover how our app can transform your productivity.”
- “Don’t miss out on this limited-time offer – shop now before it’s too late!”
Each of these examples places the most important or emphasized words at the end to create maximum impact.
The placement of important or emphasized words at the end of a sentence can be effective, but it should not be used excessively. If every sentence in your writing ends with an important or emphasized word, it can become repetitive and lose its impact. To create maximum impact, use this principle selectively and strategically to draw attention to your most important points.
15. Use the appropriate pronoun case for clear and accurate communication.
To communicate clearly and accurately in UX writing, you must use the appropriate pronoun case. In a sentence, pronouns replace nouns, and their case (subjective, objective, or possessive) determines their function. When you use the wrong case, you can cause confusion or ambiguity, which can negatively impact the user experience.
Using the subjective case “I” instead of the objective case “me” can sound awkward or ungrammatical. The statement “Please contact Dave or I if you have any questions.” is incorrect since “I” is in the subjective case and “me” is in the objective case. The correct version of the sentence would be: “Please contact Dave or me if you have any questions.“
It is also possible to cause confusion by using the wrong possessive pronoun. For instance, “its” is used for possessive pronouns, while “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” Using the wrong form can completely change the meaning. For example, “Its important to update your settings” is incorrect and should be “It’s important to update your settings.“
In UX writing, pronouns are crucial for conveying clear and unambiguous messages. Use the appropriate pronoun case and form, and avoid common errors that can confuse users. You can improve the clarity and accuracy of your writing by paying attention to pronoun usage.
16. Ensure that any participial phrases at the beginning of a sentence are clearly referring to the correct subject.
In a sentence, participial phrases function as adjectives to modify nouns and pronouns that contain verbs that end in “ing” or “ed.”. It’s important to ensure that any participial phrases at the beginning of a sentence refer to the right subject.
As an example, consider the sentence “Walking to the store, the phone rang.” This sentence is grammatically correct, but it’s unclear who or what is walking to the store. Is it the phone that is walking to the store? Is it the person who is being interrupted by the phone call? The ambiguity can confuse users and detract from the overall user experience.
In order to avoid this type of confusion, participial phrases should clearly refer to the correct subject. A comma can be used to separate the phrase from the subject, or the subject can be placed immediately after the participial phrase.
For example, “While walking to the store, I received a phone call.” In this revised sentence, the subject “I” is clearly identified and placed immediately after the participial phrase “walking to the store.”
UX writers can create more user-friendly and effective content by paying attention to participial phrases and making sure they refer to the right subject.
17. Choose a consistent writing style and stick to it to ensure a coherent and professional product.
When writing UX content, it’s important to choose a consistent writing style. Inconsistencies in tone and style will distract or confuse users, and the product will have a coherent and professional feel.
When choosing a writing style, elements such as tone, word choice, and sentence structure must be considered. Depending on their product, a brand may choose a more casual, conversational tone, or a more formal tone conveying authority and professionalism. Different writing styles may be more appropriate for different types of users based on the product’s audience.
Once a writing style has been chosen, it is important to stay consistent throughout the product. Creating a style guide outlines the key elements of the style and provides guidelines for writers to follow. The style guide can cover everything from tone and vocabulary to formatting and punctuation, ensuring that all content is consistent.
UX writers can create content that is clear, professional, and easy to understand by choosing a consistent writing style.
18. Use paragraphs to break up large blocks of text and improve readability.
When writing UX content, it’s important to make sure it’s easy to read and understand. It is most effective to break large blocks of text into smaller, more manageable paragraphs.
Using paragraphs to guide the reader’s eye through the text provides a visual cue that the content is changing. In addition to improving readability, they can simplify the process of scanning and understanding the content.
Paragraphs should contain one idea or concept per paragraph. Users won’t become confused or overwhelmed by too much information at once if the content is easy to follow.
Paragraphs can also be used to introduce new sections or ideas or to summarize the content that follows in a clear and concise way.
In order to create content that is easier to read and understand, UX writers must use paragraphs effectively.
19. Use active verbs to make your writing more engaging and effective.
In order to write engaging and effective UX content, active verbs are essential. The use of active verbs creates a sense of energy and action, which makes the content feel more lively and dynamic.
Passive verbs, on the other hand, can make the content seem drab and lifeless. In addition, they can be less clear and concise, and sometimes they can cause confusion or ambiguity.
Active verbs should be used appropriately for the context and tone of the content. To be effective, they should be strong and clear, but also appropriate for the audience and purpose.
When used in persuasive language or calls to action, active verbs can be particularly effective. Using them can create a sense of urgency and excitement, encouraging users to take action or engage more deeply with your product.
Overall, using active verbs is a simple but powerful way to make UX writing more engaging, effective, and memorable.
20. Use positive statements to convey the desired message.
In UX writing, positive statements are essential for conveying a desired message. The use of positive statements reduces confusion and ambiguity by being clear, direct, and concise.
Negative statements, on the other hand, can be more complex and difficult to understand. Moreover, they can create a negative tone, which may discourage users from engaging with the product.
If you’re writing user instructions, error messages, or other content that requires precision and clarity, use positive statements. It is easier for users to understand what they need to do when you use positive statements, as well as provide direct guidance on how to use the product when you use positive statements.
Positive statements can also motivate and encourage users. If you frame information in a positive way, you can encourage users to engage more deeply with your product and create a more positive user experience.
Overall, using positive statements can make your UX writing more effective and engaging. It is important to keep your language concise, clear, and positive so that users can comprehend and appreciate your product.
21. Use parallel construction to create a consistent and coherent message.
In writing, parallel construction is used to create a consistent and coherent message. It involves presenting ideas in a balanced and organized manner by using a consistent grammatical structure.
Parallel construction involves creating phrases or clauses that follow a similar grammatical pattern. As a result, writing becomes more organized, easier to understand, and more engaging for the audience.
User interfaces that are easy to navigate and understand can be created using parallel construction in UX writing. It is easier for users to learn how to use your product if the language and structure are consistent.
When creating a product with several different sections, you might use parallel construction to label each section consistently. You can create an easy-to-follow sense of order and organization by using the same structure and language throughout.
You can also use parallel construction to create engaging and effective calls to action. You can encourage users to take action by using the same structure and language for each call to action.
- Good Example: “Discover, connect, and share with ease using our social media platform.”
In this example, the three verbs “discover,” “connect,” and “share” are all used in the same form, making the sentence parallel and easy to understand.
- Bad Example: “Our app is fast, reliable, and we make sure it won’t crash.”
In this example, the first two adjectives are used in a parallel structure, but the third phrase “we make sure it won’t crash” breaks the pattern and creates confusion.
- Good Example: “Create an account, log in, and start browsing in seconds.”
In this example, the three verbs “create,” “log in,” and “start browsing” are all used in the same form, creating a smooth and easily comprehensible sentence.
- Bad Example: “Our app allows you to upload images, videos, and it’s user-friendly.”
In this example, the first two items in the list are related to file uploads, but the third phrase “it’s user-friendly” is not parallel and doesn’t fit the pattern.
Parallel construction can be used to create more engaging and effective UX writing. Make your product easier to understand and use by using consistent language and structure throughout your product.