‘Nobody Reads’

This is the excuse I hear when product people are disappointed that customers missed some important piece of information conveyed through UI copy. The more important the information missed, the stronger the sentiment that Nobody Reads.

But this is like when someone truncates Winston Churchill’s quote on democracy. It’s more likely you’ve heard this bit:

democracy is the worst form of Government

Than how it finishes:

except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Similarly, Nobody Reads… Bad Copy. If nobody is reading your copy, it means you need to work on the text more so the reader can work less.

Generally, the following attributes contribute to bad copy: too long, filled with jargon, without actionable steps, visually unfriendly.

(It’s worth noting that, sometimes, UI copy might not be the best way to convey a concept. Complex instructions might be better explained visually. Consider the context of what you’re trying to explain. Dates, durations, or similar concepts can benefit from a graphical aid.)

In most cases of bad copy, the solution is simple. Imagine a customer is in front of you, and then rewrite the copy as though you were delivering the instructions audibly. Next, take what you’ve written and try to say it in half the words—remove anything that isn’t necessary. Finally, read what you have aloud to someone else. Cut and rewrite based on their feedback.

This process can take longer than you think. Make sure to budget time for copy revisions just as you would mockups. Going through three, five, or 10 drafts of important language isn’t a bad thing if 10,000 people are going to read the result.