- 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?
“Lately, I’ve been following a dictum I first heard from writing coach Donald M. Murray. “A page a day,” he said, “is a book a year.”As the author of more than a dozen books, Murray knew what he was talking about. A double-spaced page of prose is 250 words. Multiply that by 365 days and you could produce 91,250 words in 2020. Give yourself vacation time and days off and you can still generate enough copy for the writing project you’ve been putting off, a body of work that you can revise. A page a day is doable as I’ve learned over the past month, and it’s not uncommon to double that. My resolution is to keep it up. Perhaps it will work for you.”—Donald M. Murray quoted in Chip Scanlon, “#15 A Page a Day, The Iceberg Theory of Writing, John Branch on Believing In What You Write, The Loneliness of Writing.” Chip in Your Inbox. January 3, 2020
Chip Scanlon’s newsletter is pure gold.
In 2019, I posted 931 entries, all post views were up to +14,000 views by +9,000 visitors to cafebedouin.org, roughly three times the level of last year. Most of the views are concentrated either on the main page or the most popular posts:
My favorite posts of the year:
In 2019, I went for a twice a day posting schedule that expanded to three times a day mid-year as I incorporated a review of my photo archive. Frankly, this is a brutal posting schedule. I could probably do twice a day comfortably, but I think I’m going to focus a bit more on quality and only commit to doing a single post a day and maybe do something original once a week in the coming year.
I still would like to move to a format where half the posts are in a Foucault hupomnemata-style, i.e., “to capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self.” And I think some of the sources I have mentioned last year are still worth exploring:
- I have been collecting rules and maxims for life over the last 1.5 years or so, and there are now over 400 of them. I could do a year just using these as writing prompts.
- I still haven’t included very much material from the commonplace book I kept for years before starting cafebedouin.org. Adding in material from it with some reflection now that it has been several years might be interesting.
- Open-ended stream-of-consciousness writing. However, it probably won’t be much fun to read. I beg your pardon.
Offline, I did Postcard Friday, on more of a monthly basis this year. And I think this was both good and something to do more of, perhaps with tie-in to the blog. Still thinking through how this might work, so maybe something for next year?
In short, expect some changes and fewer posts in the coming year.
“Finally, try to write the best version of your paper: the one that you like. You can’t please an anonymous reader, but you should be able to please yourself. Your paper — you hope — is for posterity. Remember how you first read the papers that inspired you while you enjoy the process of writing your own.”-Van Savage and Pamela Yeh, “Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper.” Nature. September 26, 2019.
tl;dr, roughly paraphrased: Cut out everything unnecessary. There should be two or three points the reader takes away from reading your post or paper. Limit each paragraph to a single idea, (Minto, anyone?) Keep your sentences short. Don’t digress. Don’t overdo it, or try to anticipate and defend against every tangential question. Use the grammar of speech. Use questions, informal speech with concrete examples. If you use math, separate it out. Read the finished draft aloud and fix what doesn’t sound right.
“‘No one needs more shit to read,’ wrote Erica Buist in a widely circulated Medium post entitled ‘The Personal Newsletter Fad Needs to End,’ citing Twitter, print magazines, and her nightstand book stack as competing entities.
It’s true that my Pocket app, Chrome tabs, bookshelves, and feeds are all crammed with reading material. Yet somehow I never begrudge a new newsletter landing in my inbox.”
—Claire Landsbaum, “We’re at Peak Newsletter, and I Feel Fine.” Vanity Fair. July 11, 2019
Even if you aren’t looking for another newsletter to subscribe to, you are bound to find something of interest in this article, such as the How to Stay Married Forever edition of Ask Molly.