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Talking about microcopy

Saturday, July 13th, 2013 by Servage

Content is king on the web and this topic strengthens that further. We always talk about the big copy or big text blocks, but not so much about microcopy or small text located on the buttons, form fields, instructional sentences, etc. Today we will talk about these small pieces of text and its repercussions on our web designs.

Now, a fundamental question arises here, whether micro texts on our website has any impact on user experiences or our final achievements? And the answer is yes; they definitely have great impact on the users’ experience or journey through our site. As they are part of navigation and website guidance, they play a vital role in making or breaking our website’s success story.

Importance of Microcopy

In practice, when we are giving instructions to someone, we always try to do so according to the context. For instance, if we try to force someone to do certain actions immediately, we choose words that forcefully tell them to perform those actions in a timely fashion, and never leave any chance of second thoughts on it. In contrast, when we try to convince someone on an issue, we use subtle messages, with mild language where our approach is with polite words to please our audience.

There are plenty of different scenarios where we have to manage the behavior of our users, particularly in the journey to navigate them through our website goals. Therefore, each word on our website matters and has weight in specified proportions. If you are a thorough designer for UX, you should check the impact of microcopy on the users, during the user testing phases. If you carefully notice the expressions, comments or loud thoughts of users over your small pieces of text, you might have good insights about the quality of your microcopy. You can know as well what users actually need or think at this unexplored front.

Effective Microcopy

We web designers usually take our microcopy notations from the websites of our niche industry and simply apply the terminologies they used. That approach is good to some extent, since the majority of our users will come from that niche and are already familiar with these terms. However, this assumption won’t work all the time, as many users come from outside the niche and are not familiar with the jargon of the industry. The best option is to use the ordinary language that we humans use, so anyone can follow our microcopy easily.

When we design with microcopy, do we first design the visual elements, like buttons or a form field, and then tell our content writer to give us words that fits the design elements? Never!  Because then we would forego the readability of the text, its context and the capability to deliver the right message with the right tone. Too short won’t deliver whatever you wish, while too long will distract users and give unpleasant experiences. If you can convey your message effectively in eight to ten words, do it. Don’t try to overwhelm. If you have confusion over this matter, run a guerilla survey and find out what will work for you.


When we are writing any copy or microcopy, first we place the brands of our customer in front. Unfortunately, in the case of microcopy, over-branding is prohibited in certain areas, such as navigation, labels, forms, fields, instructional texts, selection purpose texts like drop-downs, radio buttons, etc.

If you wish to do branding in microcopy, you have ample opportunity via many confirmation messages, rewards, 404 pages, on server errors or other error messages. In cases where users are going to take some action on our site, we are better off not branding because this may confuse users. It is best to ensure branding occurs where you are not disrupting user experience.

References & more reading

Five Ways To Prevent Bad Microcopy

Writing Microcopy

Reminder: Design is still about words


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Categories: Guides & Tutorials, Tips & Tricks


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