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The Microsoft Manual of Style: The User Interface

User interface text

User interface (UI) text appears on UI surfaces such as dialog boxes, property sheets, buttons, and wizards. User interface text is as important to the overall design of a product or service as its functionality is. UI text is the most direct means that you have of communicating with your users. Therefore, your text must be clear and helpful. And although UI text must be short, it must still follow the same voice and tone guidelines as any other content. In addition, if your content will be localized, the text must allow for text expansion, which can be as high as 30 percent for some languages. That’s the challenge that UI text poses—maintaining clarity and a consistent voice, while working within the unique constraints of the user interface.

This topic contains a brief list of guidelines and a checklist to help you develop great UI text. For more detailed information about writing UI text, see the extended discussion of UI text on the User Interface Text page of the Windows User Experience Interaction Guidelines on MSDN (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa511258.aspx).

If you only do six things

  1. Start writing UI text early, because UI text problems often reveal product or service design problems.

  2. Think like a customer and ensure that you understand the entire workflow process:

    • How do customers get to this surface?

    • What is the essential information that they need to accomplish the task on this surface?

    • Where are they going from here?

  3. Design your text for scanning. For more information, see the Layout page of the Windows User Experience Interaction Guidelines on MSDN.

  4. Be concise, eliminate redundant text, and don’t over-communicate. Too much text discourages reading.

  5. Provide links to Help content for more detailed information only when necessary. Don’t rely on Help to solve a design problem.

  6. Use a consistent voice and consistent terminology across the product or service. For more information, see Chapter 1, “Microsoft style and voice.”

High-level UI text checklist

  • Is the text that describes the flow to and from the given UI surface logical? For more information, see the Windows User Experience Interaction Guidelines on MSDN.

  • Is the point of the UI surface clear?

  • Did you provide enough information for users to make a smart decision? Can they scan the text and still be successful?

  • Did you use plain, straightforward words that your audience will understand?

  • Did you use terms consistently? Is the voice consistent? For more information, see Chapter 1, “Microsoft style and voice.”

  • Could you use fewer words while still ensuring that the customer will succeed?

  • Is the UI text easy to localize? Will the text still work with the visual design if the text were to be 30 percent longer after translation?

  • Does the text inspire users’ confidence that they can complete the task at hand?