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The User Is The Hero


We've been talking a lot at HubSpot lately about the importance of storytelling in our work. Last week, Laura Fitton published this delightful megapost of talks from last year's INBOUND conference that either focused on storytelling as a virtue or used great storytelling just to get a point across.

But how can storytelling help you write better microcopy?

One of the most important things to keep in mind when writing microcopy is that it's not about you (the writer, or the company building the software), it's about them (the user, or the person using the software). That person is the protagonist of the story. That person drives the action.

The user is the hero of the story.

That's why it comes across as self-serving and tone deaf when alerts and in-product announcements start off with a statement like "We're so excited to announce..." or "We've been working hard these last few months to bring you..."

Because honestly, who cares about you?

Spoiler alert: Nobody.

Tell the user what it means to them.

To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut:

"Every character wants something, even if it's only a glass of water."

When you're writing interface copy, try to think less about what it is you want the user to do, and more about what the user wants to accomplish. What were they trying to do when they opened this app? How in tune are your words with the mood your user is likely to be in?

If you have a user persona (and I know you do), it shouldn't be that hard to get inside your user's head. Just keep in mind that different tasks evoke different emotions. Your writing should reflect an awareness of those emotions, not blithely try to pretend they're not there.

Think like a novelist, and ask yourself what's really going on inside this character's head? What's your user's motivation in this scene? What emotions are they likely to be feeling as they view this screen? What baggage are they bringing to the situation? Do they have reason to trust you or mistrust you right now? Are they trying to do something for the first time? Are they anxious, confused, frightened, or concerned? Happy, excited, thrilled, overjoyed? Hungry, angry, lonely, tired?

What would be the best way to assuage those fears? What kind of writing would help amplify that joy? Can you find them a sandwich? Or a friend?

Too often, microcopy tries to overcome user discomfort by pretending it isn't there. By forcing the user to skip directly to feeling cheerful about change when what they really want is to have their concerns addressed. And at the same time, we can be a little tone deaf when it comes to meeting excitement head-on. To knowing exactly how to harness and encourage their joy.

Just remember that your motivation is often going to be very different from the motivation of your hero. And revise accordingly.


Image by Karla_k