Someone recently asked me if I’d ever written microcopy. I wasn’t familiar with the term. But as I learned more about it, it turned out I had written quite a bit of microcopy; I just hadn’t called it by that name.
Microcopy refers to short snippets of text which guide the user, in context, as they complete a task. In a post on bokardo.com, Joshua Porter describes it as “small yet powerful copy. It ’s fast, light, and deadly. It’s a short sentence, a phrase, a few words. A single word. It’s the small copy that has the biggest impact.”
Most often, microcopy is used to
- instruct (“Enter your credit card billing address below.”)
- inform (“You can change your choice later on the Preferences tab.”)
- reassure (“We will NEVER give your email address to anyone else. Period.”)
- warn (“If you leave the Name field blank, others will not be able to search for you by name.”)
Joshua Porter and Connie Malamed both assert that microcopy can make or break a design. In my experience, that’s not an exaggeration. An earlier post gave some examples of microcopy gone bad, with consequences ranging from confusion to late rent payments.
So how do you write effective microcopy? Consider these guidelines:
- See things from the users’ perspective. What will they wonder about? Be concerned about? What mistakes are they likely to make?
- Make it as short as possible while still being absolutely clear.
- Make it noticeable. Microcopy doesn’t do any good if it falls in the user’s blind spot.
- Test it on users. Something that might be perfectly clear to you may be obscure to your users.
Getting the microcopy right will go a long way toward getting the design right.