Writing User Interface Instructions

Original author: Connie Malamed
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Writing User Interface Instructions


The behavior of a person on the network is mainly driven by purpose. People have a goal, whether to make a purchase, find a recipe, or learn how to do something else. For example, if you draw a button that you want to click on (add a position to the basket while browsing the online store), make the button a shadow. The effect of the “raisedness” of the button will turn out, and this will help the site visitor understand that this is the button, it is clickable and that’s exactly what it needs.

In addition to such graphic details, we often write instructions to help users navigate and understand what they should do next. These instructions draw the attention of people to the appropriate place and encourage them to take certain actions.

Mental models

Designing and writing instructions is part of the user interface (UI) design, it is both a science and art, including copywriting and design skills, as well as an understanding of how people use mental models.

The mental model is a person’s internal conscious representation of how things work. This is a broad concept of the cause of action and its outcome. People apply these models to new situations and thus, there is no need to learn everything from scratch. This helps us understand the new much more efficiently.

With experience, users develop mental models, seeing how various sites work. They study all kinds of actions on the websites of online stores and compare them in the future with actions, say photo sites. This means that people use their stereotype or mental model of such sites in order to guess what actions can be performed based on experience when visiting the next site.

This is one of the main reasons why UI instructions are so important. People also have negative experiences when their mental patterns were inaccurate or incorrect. Such cases cause bad emotions, mistakes and inability to achieve the goal. An upset visitor may go to another site that is easier to use.

By providing easy-to-understand, aesthetically designed instructions, such cases can be prevented. Good instructions will direct visitors to the site, even if their mental models are inaccurate or erroneous.

Here are some guidelines for writing UI instructions


1. Find out the specifics of your audience


When you know the specifics of your audience, you can imagine how and which words are best represented. If your visitors are a homogeneous group, then we can assume that some will need recommendations to achieve their goals.

Check out the example above. The humorous instructions of the CAPTCHA form can only be understood by experienced and savvy visitors. Inexperienced computer users and those who do not speak enough English would not know that "Confirm that you are a person" means to enter alphanumeric characters in the field.

2. Balance

Finding balance is always a problem. When writing UI instructions, it is necessary to describe the essence in sufficient detail so that users know what to do, but not in such detail that these instructions become difficult to understand and read. At a time, people can perceive a very small amount of information.
Instructions are best written in a simple and accessible language that helps visitors complete their tasks quickly and efficiently. Try to use short sentences whenever possible. For example, this sentence can be easily divided into two: “Click the Add to Cart button, then the Remove button at the top of the screen.”

3. Remove any unnecessary information


This paragraph is comparable to paragraph 2, but it is almost always better to edit the written text. It's easier to remove something superfluous from the finished text. In the end, you look at the text a little differently. In the example above, instruction could be more effective with fewer words. Too much unnecessary information.

4. Choose the most effective and accurate words.

The task of expressing the essence most accurately contains a thin line between words that are similar in meaning. Usability studies show that people are viewing pages, not reading. Thus, phrases must be formulated so that at first glance any associations with respect to action arise. Some people skim pages and barely pay attention.

Use words that more accurately describe the essence. “Selecting a date” is fine, but “Click on a date” is a more precise wording describing the action. Avoid double negatives. Also, do not use jargon that some people may not understand, as well as industrial abbreviations, technical terms, etc.



As an example of choosing the accuracy of words: when you look at this menu, do you understand the difference between “Explore” and “View”?

5. Write in the valid voice. The

valid voice will encourage people to take action. The passive voice, on the contrary, only contributes to the fact that readers will yawn. Compare these offers:
Valid collateral: “Click on the Magazine link to find the article.”
Passive voice: "You must click on the" Journal "link to find the article."

6. The aesthetic part

Designing UI instructions can be a problem. You must determine where the instructions will be drawn graphically, and where to look like plain text. Although it was said that the instructions should be noticed by the user, at the same time they should not be so prominent as not to overload the page and not break the structure. As a design element, instructions should be combined with the style of the site in general, and with individual elements in particular. Conclusion: include in the plan during the initial design of the site such an element as a block with UI instructions.

7. Designate the ownership of the rows.

If the message does not fit on one line, but occupies 2 or more lines, it is important that the user does not read, determine where it ends and where the second message begins. The vertical interval between related sentences should be large enough so as not to impede normal perception, but at the same time not so large that confusion arises whether these sentences are connected. When the instruction consists of several steps - observe the interval. Number the paragraphs if the instruction is complex.

8. Choose the most legible font

Think carefully about the font. Use one that looks consistent with the overall design of the site. Regarding the font size - the text of the instruction should be understood by people of all ages. Avoid using text instructions in the form of pictures, as users in this case will not be able to enlarge the text, if necessary.

9. Use images when it's more profitable


. Yes. Sometimes it is almost impossible to describe something in words. Images in this regard can help us. For example, how to find your account number on a magazine label.

10. Contact in person


It’s okay if we add a personal appeal to the user in the manual itself. This can help the user get positive emotions, cause a smile. The main thing is to make sure that the message has no subtext, and it cannot be interpreted differently. In this example, the message may reassure the user a little. After reading this message you do not feel like a jerk, unable to store passwords in the place where they can be found.

11. Make instructions accessible.

It is very important to enable people who find it difficult to read the fine print and / or people using a PDA or phone to read the instructions.
Some basic principles for ensuring accessibility when writing instructions are: avoid using text as pictures, as it will be impossible to increase the font size (paragraph 8); provide text with alternative graphic content; clearly separate the text of the instruction from the background so that it is easily visible. In addition, links should contain text that carries meaning. For example, the link "Instructions for using the form" is better than "Click here."

12. Check instructions

Check the instructions with people of different professions, outside your office, not to mention that this is your project. Observe the actions of one or more people performing the various tasks described in the instructions. Pay attention to all difficulties where users resort to the help of instructions. Repeat the check until people complete the task without problems.

You may be surprised at how much time and effort it takes to write effective UI instructions. However, this may be one of the most valuable steps in developing a successful UI. Due to the simplicity and good perception of the instructions, you can get huge user support with positive feedback, as you care about them.

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