One of the key responsibilities of any UX writer is to make sure their work is understood. After all, your audience won’t pay attention to your copy if it doesn’t make any sense. But what qualifies something as sensible, exactly?
Think of it like this: just because you understand your own content doesn’t mean anyone else does. In other words, try to keep it simple and avoid unnecessary details. Keep in mind, you’re not writing a newsletter for a Joycean book club. More often than not you’ll be answering questions your audience may have (whether they know it yet or not), so it’s important to get to these answers before they stop paying attention.
So how do you know when something’s too complicated? One of the most obvious ways to keep your copy in line is to keep it short. It’s easy to ramble on and on when you’re passionate about a subject, but the longer your copy is, the less people will pay attention.
The question then is how do you deal with long copy? It obviously can’t be short; it might be an important explanation of how your system works. The answer to this question is just as obvious: Leave it long. You shouldn’t have to shorten important documents to keep a readers attention, just make sure you get them hooked with some microcopy leading up to it.
A great example of this can be seen in the FAQ on our own site. In a large-scale environment like ours, the copy needs to be viewable at any moment, so we’re always working to ensure this information is accurate and helpful. However, no matter how well you write some copy, it might not always work.
Despite the glaring explanation under the “Why is the job I want not available?” section of our FAQ, writers would still email us tirelessly asking about “unavailable” jobs. At first glance it seemed absurd that they’d email about something like this (after all, they’d get the information they were looking for online faster than emailing us at 10pm on a Saturday). But then it hit us: some writers weren’t even bothering with the FAQ unless they were newer to the system.
As soon as a writer found an unavailable job, they’d immediately want to know why. The problem wasn’t that the job was unavailable; it was simply that the writer didn’t know why it was unavailable. With a quick addition of some one-line copy, we were able to easily inform these writers that the information they desired was available in the FAQ.
Ever since making this change, writer questions about unavailable jobs have gone down dramatically. Every once in a while a straggler will email us a bit confused, but the amount of time saved avoiding these questions has been monumental.
And for the record, I love James Joyce.
Photo used under Creative Commons from UggBoy