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UX writing guide

The Basics

Voice and tone

For general guidelines on voice and tone, here’s a passage from the BigCommerce Global Writing Style Guide:

Just like a person, a brand has a distinct personality and voice. This voice is unique, recognizable, and consistent, helping bring BigCommerce to life across all channels and touchpoints.

BigCommerce is:

Professional, not boring

Direct, not wordy

Relatable, not sales-y

Knowledgeable, and proud to be ecommerce experts

Often inspirational, sometimes clever

Show empathy

Showing empathy towards the user is one of the fundamental precepts of product design. We all know it’s important and that we’re supposed to do it. Unfortunately, when you’re the one designing the product, and you know everything about how it works, it’s easy to get nearsighted and forget about the user. When this happens, try stepping back and imagine yourself as the user. Would the writing make sense to you?

Be positive

We want to tell users what they can do, as opposed to what they can’t do. Why? Because using BigCommerce should be a positive experience. When words like “can’t” and “don’t” appear in your writing, they should serve as red flags that you’re using negative language.

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You should also watch out for deceptive design (sometimes called dark UX). Deceptive design refers to any friction or tricks present in the UI, put there to try and get users to do something they probably don’t want to do. If you’ve ever had a hard time canceling or unsubscribing from an online account — that’s deceptive design. If you’ve ever been made to feel bad about your decisions — that’s deceptive design. Don’t do it.



Don’t get meta

Have you ever watched a movie where the characters talked about being in a movie? That’s what it means to be meta (opens in a new tab). The Scream and Deadpool movies are great examples. The characters seem to know they’re in a movie and help the audience by explaining what’s happening.

A good design, like a bad movie, should be predictable. If we need to get meta and explain where something is or how to use it within the UI itself, then we should take a second look at the UI.

Granted, there may be instances where you must provide guidance to the user as to what they should do next or where they need to go to find something. In a cases like these, try to be concrete and specific.

Avoid vague directions like “below/above” and “left/right.” If you need to direct the user to a specific page, link to the page or section of the page.

Be inclusive

Merchants who use BigCommerce come from a wide range of different social and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and physical abilities.

The language we use inside our products should take into account the diversity of our users. To that end, communicate in such a way that is inclusive, being careful to avoid culturally ingrained biases that, actively or passively, exclude certain groups.

The goal of this section of the UX Writing Guide is to give you a quick gloss on how to remove non-inclusive terms and phrases from the discourse of ecommerce.

What is inclusive language?

Inclusive language (opens in a new tab) is defined as:

Language that avoids the use of certain expressions or words that might be considered to exclude particular groups of people, esp gender-specific words, such as ‘man,’ ‘mankind,’ and masculine pronouns, the use of which might be considered to exclude women.

What does non-inclusive language look like?

Non-inclusive language goes beyond gender. It’s impossible to list out every example of non-inclusive language, but here are some examples that exclude certain groups of people:

“Hey guys”

Implies that men are the preferred gender.

“Psycho” or “crazy”

Downplays people’s real experiences with mental disorders.

“Trim the fat”

Suggests those of a certain body type are less valued than other groups.


Denigrates people with disabilities.

“Senior moment”

Promotes negative beliefs about aging and older adults.

Words to avoid, words to use instead

Check the chart below for non-inclusive words and phrases commonly encountered in UX writing and suggested replacements.

Artificial, synthetic, fabricated, manufacturedMan-made
Staffed, managed, staffing, workforceManned, manpower
Baffling, confusing, unbelievable, sillyCrazy, insane
Denylist, blocklistBlacklist
You allGuys
They, them, theirHe, him, she, her
Primary, secondaryMaster, slave
Confidence checkSanity check
Gap, weak pointBlind spot
Legacy, exemptGrandfathered in
Meeting, gatheringPow wow
Easy, simpleCakewalk

Rules for inclusive writing

Avoid gendered language

Use the third person singular “they/them/their,” unless you know the subject’s preferred pronouns. Failing that, use the second person “you.” Doing the latter makes your writing more personal and engaging.

Avoid directional language

Directions like left, right, above and below won’t be much help to someone using a screen reader. Instead, provide specific, concrete directions, referring to areas of the page by name.

Focus on the person, not their characteristics

Only mention gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, age or physical abilities when it’s actually relevant to the topic at hand.

When all else fails, write around the pronouns

In many cases you can reword your sentences and avoid using pronouns in the first place.

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