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Ognjen Regoje

I make things that run on the web (mostly).
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Don't be clever, be clear

I love plain language. (the last one is a pdf)

So it’s no surprise that one of my (many) pet peeves is when a title of an article tries to be clever. Consider, for example:

It Can Happen to You

This can be about anything from cancer to, as in this case, a very arcane piece of programming knowledge.

I don’t like that. I like titles to be clear. I also like the copy in software to be clear.

But why

Because I don’t want to waste brain cycles parsing what a title means or an action does.

I don’t want to have the joy of having discovered what the author meant by something cute or clever, unless I’m there for entertainment specifically.

I want the joy of having gotten the information or preformed the task quickly and with minimal effort.

In marketing copy

Just say exactly what you mean as succinctly as possible and with the simplest language possible. Say:

Uses AI for route planning

Don’t say:

Leverages state of the art artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to enhance…

Readers who know exactly what you mean see through this. The readers that don’t know what you mean, often aren’t as important. (side-note: maybe they actually are? And this is who these copies are trying to impress?)

In app copy

Be as clear and as simple as possible. I might eventually understand what Blast off! (real example) is, but Get started is much clearer.

Please don’t use entirely new words for things that have already been done. Log in or Sign in are crystal – there’s no reason you should use Enter.

Especially for more technical things

Engineers doing copy often make an additional mistake of calling things what they really are. But, users don’t care about the actual technical name of a thing. They care about the practical name. So, go ahead and be clear. For instance, instead of SMTP settings use Email server settings.

And in code too

Too often do engineers underestimate the difficulty in naming things. More often do they semi-intentionally choose the worse name.

If you have to store “price before discount” in a variable, stay away from pbd – instead, use the extra bytes and call it price_before_discount.

Shopify Polaris

One of the best resources I’ve found for copywriting for software is part of the Shopify Polaris.