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Book review - Strategic Writing for UX

 ·  ☕ 6 min read

Overview

Title: Strategic Writing for UX: Drive Engagement, Conversion, and Retention with Every Word

Author: Torrey Podmajersky

How I learned about it: Recommended by a comment when I posted my Microcopy review to reddit

Would I recommend: Yes - This book covered a lot of content similar to what Microcopy did, but with much less of a marketing tone. The two books complement each other very well, and if I were to pick only one, it would be this one.

General comments

Strategic Writing for UX is a quick, easy read with a ton of concrete advice on UX writing. It has some of the best case studies I’ve ever seen in a book: three imaginary companies with mobile apps that the author has created dozens of screens for, all with their own UX copy spread throughout the book, all with extremely different voice and tone guides. This set of case studies affords the perfect mixture of compare-and-contrast while maintaining consistency from one example to the next.

Most of the content is in chapter 4, which shows some “design patterns” for UX writing - similar to the second part of Microcopy - and chapter 6, which goes through an indepth rubric that you can use for grading your UX writing. I also thought chapters 1 and 2 were particularly useful. Chapter 1 describes the lifecycle of how a user interacts with UX writing from the point of view of both the user and the company. Chapter 2 discusses voice and tone, taking a significantly different approach from that of Microcopy on the same subject.

Other topics include approaching copy as conversation, editing, onboarding into a new company, and specific tooling for working with microcopy; there is a lot of good content in every chapter, but the ones I mentioned above were the most interesting to me. (More on chapter 5 later.)

There was also consistent mention of accessibility throughout - always design with screen readers in mind, always write with translation/internationalization in mind. I appreciated that!

Some useful reference pages

  • Page 10 - “Virtuous cycle” of attracting users to and retaining them as members of an experience
  • Page 29 - Start of example filled-in voice charts
  • Page 47 - List of “UX text patterns” (and start of chapter 4, which covers these)
  • Page 94 - A chart of how you might edit microcopy and how the length might change over time
  • Page 114 - UX content scorecard (empty)
  • Page 131 - UX content scorecard (filled in)

Contrast to “Microcopy”

This book covers a lot of the same content as Microcopy, but with a different approach. Where Microcopy’s approach is to briefly glance at hundreds of examples in an attempt to distill common patterns, Strategic Writing for UX instead takes a slower approach and discusses methods, with three imaginary case studies. While both are of course attempting to help successful employees of successful businesses, the latter feels much more like it’s advocating for users, while the former feels like it’s advocating for people marketing to users. I prefer the tone of the latter.

The UX text patterns are central to both books. Here’s what each one covers, and how it’s called in each book (if it’s present).

In Microcopy In Strategic Writing for UX
Sign up & Password recovery N/A
Newsletter signup N/A
“Contact us” pages N/A
Error messages Errors
Success messages Confirmation messages
Empty states Empty states
Placeholders Text input fields
Buttons Buttons and other interactive text
404 error pages N/A
Loading screens Transitional text
N/A Titles
N/A Descriptions
N/A Labels
N/A Controls
N/A Notifications

The difference in goal is most apparent in the “Empty states” sections in the two books: Microcopy encourages you to ensure that there’s always a CTA in every single empty state, whereas Strategic Writing for UX simply encourages you to inform the user about things that may be useful. The TAPP example does include a CTA to find a route (page 65), but it’s not explicitly mentioned that it should be a mandatory part of every single empty state the way it is in Microcopy.

Finally, as pointed out by the commenter who recommended me this book in the first place, the list of voice & tone values on page 29 of Microcopy should be very helpful when deciding on product principles, first discussed on page 20 of Strategic Writing for UX.

Things I didn’t like

Chapter 5 - Edit, Because They Didn’t Go There To Read

Let me preface by saying that I think the process outlined in this section is great - apply a phased approach to editing, in which you focus on a different goal in each phase. The problem is, I think the example UX text provided here is…not great. The original version is, “Your Payment Method Has Expired - Your Monthly Pass Will Not Be Removed.” The final versions suggested all fail to communicate to the user that the payment method has expired. They request that the user update an expiration date, but I would expect TAPP, with their product principles of trustworthy and accessible, to clearly state the issue to the user rather than dance around it.

Maybe UX research will show that people do respond better to seeing “To buy your next pass, update your credit card,” but I would have preferred to see a headline that incorporated the word “expired” because the current versions don’t exactly make it clear that there’s an error state. I would have liked to see something along the lines of “Payment method expired - Update your card to keep riding easy with TAPP.”

Of course, the fact that I spent at least 30 minutes thinking about how to phrase this notification badge means that the chapter was very successful in provoking thought, so overall excellent chapter. Just not a fan of the three choices we were left with at the end.

Transitions

Ok totally nitpicking here but this drove me crazy for two entire chapters so I’m including it. In some of the sections, the author textually introduces subsections before the header/entry point introducing that subsection. I found this extremely jarring; the transitional text was unnecessary, and the focus change prior to the new entry point was unexpected every single time even though it kept happening. One example is on page 65, where the text abruptly starts introducing labels right before the heading “Labels.” (It’s done every single section in this chapter, I just picked one.)

These transitional paragraphs could have been moved to right below the entry points introducing their new topics, but I think the text would be totally fine if they were all cut completely. The heading serves as a sufficient introduction of the new topic each time.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this book a lot! As I mentioned earlier, it’s not at all a large time commitment to read it, and the book introduces a lot of solid advice for interface writing backed up by some of the most well-constructed case studies I’ve ever seen. Read this book, and if you want to expand your creative horizons, pick up Microcopy as well.

As for what I’m reading next, I’ve picked up The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market, but I’ve mostly started reading some Information Behavior / Library Information Sciences books, so I might be taking a break from Technical Writing books from a bit and I’m not sure when I’ll get around to reading it. But, if you have any suggestions of books I might enjoy, please let me know!

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River (RheingoldRiver) is a MediaWiki developer and the manager of Leaguepedia. She likes cats.


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