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Monthly Dose of Design: Writing for Digital Platforms

In the third part of the series on the fundamentals of how to design a digital platform, we'll be covering how to write effective copy. Learn the distinctions between standard print versus digital copy, and key skills to implement strong copy on your own.

In the previous two articles, we’ve explored the fundamentals of how to design a digital platform for research purposes. We’ve already covered Wireframing and User Interface Design. This month we’re discussing how to write copy so it’s an effective design asset for digital research platforms. 

What’s the Difference Between Writing Copy for Print and Digital?

The difference between writing for print and digital platforms lies in how information is read. 

 Reading print:

  • Is often for leisure
  • Involves less distractions than reading on digital 
  • Copy flows in a linear format from the top to bottom

Reading on digital platforms:

  • Is often a task-driven activity –  instructions or gathering information
  • Has many distractions with pictures and moving parts
  • Has multiple-direction reading formats (back and forth between pages and navigation menus)

Digital platform copy exists to guide and inform. It’s a direct line of communication between your platform and your user. Therefore, digital copy must simply deliver information to your user that’s easy to understand at a glance.

Why are Digital Copywriting Skills Important for Researchers?

Effective digital copywriting is integral to your digital platform’s user experience, user interface and overall usability. Users have shorter attention spans than ever. If your copy is overcomplicated and difficult to understand, users will struggle to navigate your platform and quickly lose interest. This will result in poor insights from participants or poor client engagement (depending on the platform’s purpose).

Resultantly, you must consider four things when writing copy for digital platforms:

  • Purpose
    • You must consider the purpose of your copy. What is its aim? And how is it aiding your users in reaching their goal?
  • Simplicity
    • When writing for digital platforms, simplicity is key. This is because digital readers are easily distracted due to there being buttons to click on, progress bars and animations
  • Tonality
    • Central to having the correct tone is knowing your audience. For example, for a sample of B2B finance professionals, your tonality should be more serious and formal vs. a youth sample which should be simple and lighthearted
  • Length
    • Your copy’s length will vary based on your audience and subject matter. Remember that regardless of how long or short your copy is, make sure you are effectively getting your point across
  • Visual Hierarchy
    • The copy is a key visual asset of your user interface. Often users scan online content looking for the most relevant sections to them. Consequently, you need to correctly ‘signpost’ content. For example:
      • Headlines must be the largest text elements on the page
      • Subheaders should be the smaller but still impactful
      • Body copy is typically the longest piece of text 
      • Footers should be the smallest in size. This signals it’s the least important information on the page

With your copy now sorted, it’s time to concentrate on microcopy!

What is Microcopy?

Microcopy is generally smaller copy that consists of 1-3 words, or a short phrase, compared to regular copy which is a lot longer. It refers to the instructional text that guides you on a website or app. Microcopy nudges the user to complete tasks. Such tasks can include subscribing, purchasing, filling in a form or sharing a product or service.  Call to actions (CTAs), buttons, notifications, error messages and menus are Microcopy. Their main purpose is to help your user navigate the user interface.

Here are 4 key considerations when writing your UX microcopy:

  • Keep it concise
    • Less is always more. Keep your copy simple, catchy and to the point. This means users can intuitively reach their end goal. Additionally, avoid technical jargon – users don’t have extensive knowledge of web design or mechanics
  • Set the scene
    • Context is key for microcopy, it subconsciously guides your users and helps them reach their end goal.
  • Take Action
    • Microcopy often takes the form of CTAs. These are usually 1-2 words or short phrases that are designed to make your user immediately respond and do something. Therefore, make this tone authoritative, clear and action-based
  • Authenticity
    • Authenticity is what designers call “dark UX”. This is a term deemed to mislead and send users into tasks not intended as written. This damages the experience of the user. Be truthful about what is written and do not intentionally manipulate users by leading them on

For example, a button can be written as “You have completed the survey” but when users click on that hoping to have finished and receive a reward, they could be sent to another section which task them to complete another 3 more questions about themselves.


Next month is the last in our series of how to design a digital platform for research purposes, we will be focusing on Interaction Design.

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