How to Write Great Microcopy

  • Be clear, concise, and useful
  • Use consistent wording
  • Create a microcopy framework
  • Be conversational
  • Use humors and idioms carefully
  • Highlight your brand’s character
  • Be wary of word translations
  • (Almost) always use active voice
  • Use the passive voice (sometimes)
  • Provide context
  • Assume your user is smart
  • Keep it scannable
  • Write short paragraphs an sentences
  • Don’t overuse contractions
  • When to use sentence case
  • When to use title case
  • Capitalize proper names & terms
  • When to use “Your”
  • When to use “My”
  • Keep ’em calm
  • Refer to the user
  • Identify interactive elements
  • Start with verbs
  • Prompt action
  • Motivate action
  • Set expectations
  • Instruct action
  • Show progress during action
  • Give feedback after actions
  • Use constructive feedback model
  • Avoid destructive feedback
  • Create positive moments
  • Pair visuals with words
  • Be consistent with imagery
  • Use familiar words and phrases
  • Spell out numbers up to nine
  • Reassure users with social proof
  • Pick the right moments
  • Test and improve
  • Think: “How can I improve your life?”

h/t The Product Person.

I have no doubt this is good advice for “microcopy”, which seems to be the text involved with software interactions. But, I think there is an interesting contrast to advice offered in posts like “English Split Composition“. Is “microcopy” good writing outside of writing human/computer interactions in software? Is it “good” writing, in other contexts? When you think of someone like Ernest Hemingway, initially disciplined by the telegraph, that turned into his style, can taking that further into “microcopy” lead to good communication or even good art?

English Split Composition

“English is a language built mostly out of two others. Much of it was created out of the language of invaders who came to Britain around 450 ad from Anglia and Saxony (in what we’d now call northern Germany). About 600 years later the French invaded and brought their language with them, too; it was derived from Latin. The new French competed with Old English, and the outcome was a language—modern English—built out of both.

Often words with similar meanings from the two languages were both turned into English words, such as make (Saxon) and create (from French), or need (Saxon) and require (from French). So in English you can say almost anything with two kinds of words: short, simple ones with Saxon origins, or fancier ones that come from Latin.”

-Ward Farnsworth, “What Did Lincoln Know About Language That We Don’t?” June 22, 2020.

How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens

The central idea of this book is that a system of note taking can help us incorporate our reading into a process of engaged learning. This involves three levels of note taking:

  1. Inspiration: quick notes on ideas that occur to us in a flash of insight
  2. Reading: reading highlights from books and articles that capture the gist of the content
  3. Permanent: Relating our inspired and reading notes into a body of work that reflects our worldview

The keys are to put our inspired and reading notes into a slip box to help us develop unique insights and to interrelate the permanent work so they remain singular and discete, but at the same time serve as part of a network of relationships that can feed into projects, or specific pieces of writing designed for some purpose.

The thrust of this effort is to develop a note taking process that invites us to build and learn as part of an integrated process. It reminded me a bit of the text based social science and two computer revolutions I mentioned previously. (I’ll put the links in later.)

Always on the Side of the Egg

“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

—Haruki Murakami, “Always on the Side of the Egg,” February 17, 2009.

How to Become a Hacker

“Learning something new that’s complicated often feels difficult at first – if it feels easy it may be something you already know or you may not really be testing your knowledge (it’s a lot easier to read about how to solve a physics problem and think ‘this makes sense’ than it is to solve a problem yourself with the tools you just read about). The struggle can be a good sign – it means you’re really learning and by focusing on doing similar types of things it’ll become easier as you get better…

…Learning something complicated for the first time should feel a little painful – you should get used to that feeling since it’s a good thing and means you’re growing. Don’t let it scare you away because you don’t think you’re smart enough. Since there’s so much to learn and a lot of different avenues to go down (just in computers there are things like computer graphics, security, machine learning, algorithms, mobile, web, infrastructure, etc.), having a mindset where you allow yourself to grow and get out of your comfort zone to learn new things is critical.”

Zach Alberico, “How to Become a Hacker.” April 19, 2020.

The modern reality is that there are two computing revolutions going on. In one, computers are being made accessible to everyone, where everyone from small children to the elderly can navigate app icons and do useful things with a program designed by someone else. In the other, you are given a sophisticated tool and have to learn to use it to accomplish useful things you design yourself.

Everyone involved in the second revolution is a “hacker” in some sense of the word. They might not be writing code, but perhaps they are using git for version control, Photoshop to manipulate images, machine learning to look for patterns in data sets, designing objects to be printed in a 3D printer using Autocad, et cetera. There are many facets of this kind of computing that require no coding at all. However, you are using a generalized tool to accomplish a task, one that was previously impossible to perform.

So, we might need a newer, more expansive term for the people involved in this second revolution. One that include the plain text social scientist, computer artists, 3D designers and others.

A History of Race and Racism in America

“I’ve selected the most influential books on race and the black experience published in the United States for each decade of the nation’s existence — a history of race through ideas, arranged chronologically on the shelf. (In many cases, I’ve added a complementary work, noted with an asterisk.) Each of these books was either published first in the United States or widely read by Americans. They inspired — and sometimes ended — the fiercest debates of their times: debates over slavery, segregation, mass incarceration. They offered racist explanations for inequities, and antiracist correctives. Some — the poems of Phillis Wheatley, the memoir of Frederick Douglass — stand literature’s test of time. Others have been roundly debunked by science, by data, by human experience. No list can ever be comprehensive, and ‘most influential’ by no means signifies ‘best.’ But I would argue that together, these works tell the history of anti-black racism in the United States as painfully, as eloquently, as disturbingly as words can. In many ways, they also tell its present.”

-Ibram X. Kendi, “A History of Race and Racism in America, in 24 Chapters.” The New York Times. February 22, 2017.

To accompany Ibram X. Kendi’s, “How to be an antiracist.”

Shave and a Haircut

  • Merkur Classic (daily) / Merkur Progress (weekly), razor: ~$60
  • Tinkle Hair Cutter, a razor comb: ~$6
  • Personna Israeli Platinum Reds, Double Edge Razors, blades: 100 for ~$20

For over a decade, I’ve used a Merkur Classic Razor with Personna blades for shaving. It takes me a few years to use a 100 blades. Before, I used to use a Gillette Mach 3. But, I’d spend about $60 dollars a year using Gillette. With a Merkur, the cost of shaving goes down to less than $20.

With the pandemic and the closing of barber shops, I started using a Tinkle razor comb. It uses the same blades as a Merkur. Like the transition to Merkur, there is a bit of a learning curve. I learned the basics from this YouTube video:

But, if you have short hair and aren’t too particular, a razor comb does a decent job. Considering a haircut and tip can cost $25 and if you get one once a month, that’s a $300 annual expense. It more than paid for itself on the first cut, although it took me three days to get it looking the way I wanted. I probably will continue using it, even once the pandemic is over. Recommended.