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Microcopy explained

Summary

Microcopy, the small text snippets within a product or website, guides users, providing information and reassurance. Often overlooked, its quality, especially in user experience, impacts interface friendliness and user perception. Effective microcopy is concise, clear, succinct, and elegant.

What is Microcopy? #

Microcopy refers to the small bits of text or copy that you find throughout a product or website: Navigation item text, form field labels, button texts, error messages, etc. These are the little words or phrases that guide users on what to do, provide additional information, or offer reassurance. They help users navigate and understand a website.

Microcopy writing is often overlooked #

Unfortunately, microcopy writing is a key element of the design process that is often being overlooked. Sometimes, it is left to front-end designers or - even worse - developers to write such texts. The text snippets often remain in the final product forever and are no longer questioned or revised by the project team.

Microcopy writing for user experience #

Good microcopy can enhance the overall user experience by making interfaces more user-friendly, reducing confusion, and providing support where needed. It has a great impact how users interact with and perceive a product.

It makes perfect sense to familiarize yourself with the rules for good microcopy writing and make writing such text snippets part of the UX design process. Existing microcopy should be regularly checked for usefulness, correctness and performance.

When it comes to copy writing, some argue for brevity, others for length. It should be noted that online texts are often scanned and not read thoroughly. No matter whether copywriting or microcopy writing, one rule remains the same: Using essential keywords matters.

Your guiding principle should be prioritizing clarity, striving to express exactly, succinctly, and elegantly.

Examples of microcopy usage #

Microcopy finds diverse applications across user interfaces, from navigation labels and button texts to error messages and tooltips. Here’s an extensive list of examples of where microcopy is used:

Anchor texts #

Link texts to provide users with a relevant indication of the destination or action associated with the link.

<a href="/contact/">Contact Us</a>

For anchor text writing best practices see link text copywriting tips.

Labels and descriptions for menu items to help users understand the purpose of each navigation option.

<li><a href="/contact/">Contact</a></li>

Button texts #

Labels on buttons that convey the action users will take, such as “Submit,” “Continue,” or “Save Changes.”

<button>Add to favorites</button>

Form field labels #

Instructions, examples, or hints provided next (label) or within (placeholder) input fields to guide users on what information is expected.

<label for="firstname">First name</label>
<input id="firstname" name="firstname" placeholder="Your first name">

Help text #

Descriptive text near form fields or features that provides additional context or information to users.

<p>First, add your mobile number.</p>

Call-to-Action (CTA) copy #

Text associated with buttons or links prompting users to take a specific action, like “Sign Up Now”.

<a href="/sign-up">Sign up so you don't miss it!</a>

Tooltips #

Small boxes of text that appear when users hover over or click on an element, offering additional information or clarification.

<p>You can view and change your preferences here.</p>

Explanations, summaries of privacy policies, terms and coditions, subscription, and pricing information to inform users about data handling and protection, terms, pricing, etc. in e.g. sign up forms.

<p>I accept the <a href="/terms">Terms of use</a> and <a href="/billing">subscription</a>.</p>

Confirmation dialogs #

Messages that appear to confirm a user’s decision to proceed with a particular action, like deleting a file or unsubscribing from a service.

<p>You have unsaved changes. Are you sure you want to continue?</p>

Loading messages #

Text displayed during loading processes to inform users that an action is in progress.

<p>Backing up your files ...</p>

Success messages #

Messages that appear after users successfully complete an action, providing confirmation and positive feedback.

<p>All files have been uploaded!</p>

Error messages #

Messages that appear when users make mistakes or encounter issues, guiding them on how to correct the problem.

<p>This card was declined. Try another payment method.</p>

404 pages #

Messages on error pages, e.g. 404 pages, providing guidance or humor to help users navigate to the desired content.

<p>You didn't break the Internet, but we can't find what you are looking for. Try the search.</p>

Empty state messages #

Text displayed in areas that are currently empty or devoid of content, guiding users on how to populate or use that space.

<p>Add backup payment method</p>

Alternative texts #

Descriptive alt texts about the content of an image in HTML. The texts are supposed to convey the purpose or information conveyed by an image.

<img src="/images/elephant.jpg" alt="Elephant at sunset">

Captions #

Short texts below self-contained content, like illustrations, diagrams, photos, code listings, etc. that describe the content.

<figure>
  <img src="/images/elephant.jpg" alt="Elephant at sunset">
  <figcaption>An elephant at sunset</figcaption>
</figure>

Differentiation from microcontent, UI copy, and UX copy #

Microcopy, microcontent, UI copy, and UX copy are terms related to different aspects of writing and content in the context of user interfaces and user experience design.

While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences in their focus and scope:

Microcopy #

Microcontent #

User interface (UI) copy #

User Experience (UX) copy #

Conclusion #

In summary, while microcopy, microcontent, UI copy, and UX copy share commonalities, they differ in their scope and emphasis within the broader context of user interface and experience design.

Microcopy is a subset of UI copy, and UX copy encompasses a broader range of content that contributes to the overall user experience. Microcontent, on the other hand, refers to small, standalone units of content that can include various forms of media, not just text.


FAQ's #

Most common questions and brief, easy-to-understand answers on the topic:

What is microcopy, and why is it important?

Microcopy is the small, concise bits of text found in user interfaces. It's important because it guides users, enhances user experience, and influences user behavior.

How does microcopy contribute to the overall user experience?

Microcopy contributes by providing clarity, reducing confusion, and offering guidance throughout the user journey. It can influence users positively and help them navigate a system more effectively.

What are some best practices for writing effective microcopy?

Best practices include being concise, using clear language, maintaining a consistent tone, focusing on the user's perspective, and testing the effectiveness of the copy with users.

How can microcopy reflect a brand's personality?

Microcopy can reflect a brand's personality through the use of tone, language, and style. It should align with the overall brand voice and convey the brand's values.

What are common challenges in microcopy writing?

Challenges include finding the right balance between brevity and clarity, adapting to different user personas, addressing potential points of confusion, and maintaining a consistent tone across various touchpoints.

How do you prioritize information in microcopy?

Prioritize information based on user needs and the context of the interaction. Important information should be clear and prominent, while less critical details can be presented more subtly.

How do you handle cultural considerations in microcopy for a global audience?

Consider cultural nuances, idioms, and potential misunderstandings. Aim for language that is universally understood and be mindful of cultural sensitivities.

How can microcopy be optimized for accessibility?

Ensure that microcopy is written in a way that is easily understandable by a diverse audience, including those with different abilities. Use clear language, provide alternative text for images, and consider readability (e.g. contrast, font size, etc.).

How do you iterate and test microcopy to ensure its effectiveness?

Iteration involves continually refining and improving microcopy based on user feedback and testing. A/B testing, user testing, and user feedback can help identify areas for improvement.

Are there specific guidelines for mobile microcopy?

Mobile microcopy should be even more concise and to the point due to limited screen space. It should prioritize the most critical information and actions for users on the go.

What tools and resources are available for microcopy writers?

Various tools, style guides, and resources are available for microcopy writers, including style guides, user personas, and collaboration tools that facilitate communication between design and content teams.


Further readings #

Sources and recommended, further resources on the topic:

Author

Jonas Jared Jacek • J15k

Jonas Jared Jacek (J15k)

Jonas works as project manager, web designer and developer since 2001. On top of that, his areas of expertise are in user experience, accessibility, internationalization, and domain names. See: https://www.j15k.com/

License

License: Microcopy explained by Jonas Jared Jacek is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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<p xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" xmlns:dct="http://purl.org/dc/terms/"><a property="dct:title" rel="cc:attributionURL" href="https://www.uxgem.com/articles/microcopy-explained">Microcopy explained</a> by <a rel="cc:attributionURL dct:creator" property="cc:attributionName" href="https://www.j15k.com/">Jonas Jared Jacek</a> is licensed under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/" target="_blank" rel="license noopener noreferrer">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p>

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