5 Tips for better microcopy


More and more companies are recognizing the value of using small text aids to facilitate a process on an interface and provide absolute clarity for users. Anyone who spends a lot of time on the web and in apps is also constantly confronted with microcopy - some very helpful, some less so. Here are some examples with matching tips on how to do it better in my experience.

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Carina Glinik

Senior UX Writer
4 min read01 Feb 2024

Tip 1: Avoid superfluous explanations

Some explanations are well-intentioned, but no one needs them. For example, that if I change my password, oha, my old one is no longer valid.

Screenshot Microcopy: Passwort ändern Prozess

"If you have forgotten the password for your account, you can select a new one here. Once you save the new password, your old password will become invalid."

For this no-brainer, this user interface gives me 171 characters of text to read. That's longer than any search result snippet on Google.

If it has to be "foolproof," at least they could have shortened it to "Your old password will no longer be valid." Well, after all, passwords are about security, so I can at least understand the ambition.

Not much shorter, but all the more superfluous is this example of a lottery entry with 166 characters:

Screenshot Microcopy: Geburtsdatum auswählen

“To select your date of birth, please click on the year in the calendar window. A drop-down menu will then open, making it easier to enter the date.”

Apart from the fact that the exact age is not relevant for participation in a competition (from the point of view of the user experience, not the data-collecting marketing department, of course), this explanation is completely unnecessary. What else should I do with the calendar window if not select a date?

Further points of criticism:

  • Why do I have to click in the window before the calendar opens? Because you could also display it right away. #Usability

  • Facilitates the input? So I should click 33 times on the back arrow to get to my birth year. Then please do it manually. #InteractionDesign 

  • Be sparing with the word "please". Especially in forms where you usually have to fill in a lot of fields (first name, last name, address, etc.), you end up with a lot of "please". All this data is perfectly common and you don't have to ask for it in every input field. It is better to save the "please" for a special action (e.g. the confirmation button at the very end), then it will have a stronger meaning there.

My suggestion for improvement: cross out no-brainers altogether. Even if it's well-intentioned, your users aren't here in your form to read too much text, they just want to move on quickly. You can derive what should and shouldn't be clear to your target audience from personas or usability testing.

Tip 2: Be specific

Pop-up windows - we all love them. #not

Even worse than a pop-up is a pop-up that doesn't provide any concrete information. This mircocopy consists of 228 characters and basically says nothing more than "New version available".

Screenshot Microcopy: Pop-up Benachrichtigung

"Our dedicated (and decidedly good-looking) team has been hard at work releasing a new version of XY. Just check out the interesting new features and bug fixes in this release."

29 words, including 7 adjectives - although even with 3 words it would have been clear that a new version was available.

The fact that the team is "decidedly good looking" is of course meant with a wink and is meant to convey humor. Humor is fantastic for building an emotional connection with users and is a good idea in and of itself. However, also be careful with humor. If the joke doesn't resonate with your target audience (e.g., a different generation) or if they simply don't find it funny, they're more likely to find it annoying. I'd be especially careful with popping windows.

But the adjective that bothers me the most here is "interesting." My recommendation: Just be specific about what the news is and let your users come to the conclusion themselves that it is interesting.

Tip 3: Respect rejections

You are constantly bombarded with prompts on the Internet.

Try XY for free for 2 weeks.

Download our PDF.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Some of it you try once, but most of it you don't. So please understand that your users may also reject your offer.

Part of a good user experience is enabling users not to want XY. If you make this difficult for users or - even worse - shame them for it, this will only lead to them turning away from you with a negative feeling.

Screenshot Microcopy: Confirmshaming

"No, I do NOT want to learn how to sharpen my brand message".

A classic case of "confirmshaming". While there is the option to opt-out, this one makes you look pretty stupid.

It won't improve your conversion rate. Just don't do it.

Here's how to do it better: be specific! What is the added value of the offer? Why is this newsletter worth my time? Give good reasons to click the confirmation button and allow your users to make a decision without guilt.

Tip 4: Be prepared for something to go wrong

In practice, nothing is forgotten about as often as being prepared for a potential fail. Yet it happens so easily with digital applications that one day something doesn't work out the way it should.

I wanted to quickly reduce the size of an image using an online tool. It didn't work and the success message was: "Your pictures are now 0% smaller!" And that's even with a call sign. Thanks for nothing!

Screenshot Microcopy: Failed success message

A small attempt to at least admit the fail would already be an improvement.

Ideally, you should think about what could possibly go wrong with every action. Pay special attention to those errors that were caused by users themselves. The image is in the wrong format or there's a typo in the email address? Let your users know where the problem lies and provide instructions on how to fix it.

The same goes for possible errors that could happen on your website. This could be something like an incorrect redirect causing a 404 error. Explain to your users how the error might have occurred and show them alternatives. There is surely more to it than just "404".

404 Error Seite

A few examples of helpful elements on a 404 page:

  • A search box that users might use to find what they were hoping to find here after all.

  • Popular topics or posts on this page

  • Contact options for direct help

Tip 5: Be inclusive

Inclusive writing is a very big topic in UX. For one thing, you have to include people who are limited, for example because of a disability. We already touched on this last year in our UX Trends (Tip 4). On the other hand, it is also important to include women and especially people who are non-binary.

The least(!) you should do in terms of inclusivity is to use defensible forms of address in forms. For example, that would be Mr., Ms., and as a 3rd option, a neutral salutation. Ideally, omit the salutation altogether unless it is absolutely necessary for your purpose.

In no case give your users the "Miss" to choose from. This form of address for unmarried women was abolished in the 70s(!). Actually, it's unbelievable that I'm mentioning this in 2023, but I actually just came across this recently.

Screenshot Microcopy: Anrede Fräulein

Conclusion: There is a lot to consider

So there you have it, 5 tips with examples that I've noticed lately and remembered to take a screenshot of. But of course there is a lot more to consider with Microcopy and UX Writing in general.

In summary, I guess it's safe to say: think along.

These questions will help you with your microcopy:

  1. Does it really need every sentence or can it be shorter?

  2. What are the facts behind the nice adjectives?

  3. How do users come away with positive feelings?

  4. What happens if it doesn't work?

  5. Can everyone follow and does everyone feel addressed?