Examples

Principle

Speak their language

A number so nice, you used it twice.

There’s already an invoice [docnumber]. You can use it again, but it resets your invoice numbers (starting from [docnumber]).

Do you still want to use this invoice number?

Repeated entry error pattern

A number so nice, you used it twice.

There’s already an invoice [docnumber]. You can use it again, but it resets your invoice numbers (starting from [docnumber]).

Do you still want to use this invoice number?

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Good

A number so nice, you used it twice. There’s already an invoice [docnumber]. You can use it again, but it resets your invoice numbers (starting from [docnumber]). Do you still want to use this invoice number?

We can use this error pattern in various instances when users enter a number that they (or the system) already used. It has just the right amounts of helpfulness and delight.

Not so good

Invoice [docnumber] has already been taken. Are you sure you want to continue with that number? It will reset your invoice numbers (starting from [docnumber]).

Try to avoid the "Are you sure" construction in error messages. It makes it sound as if we're questioning the user's intelligence instead of guiding them to make the right choices.

Something's not right. Try again.

Unspecified error message

Something's not right. Try again.

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Good

Something's not right. Try again.

We use this message when we're not sure what caused the error or when the error is so complicated and technical that explaining it might just annoy the customer.

Not so good

Oops! We're sorry! You've encountered an asynchronous error. Please try again.

We don't use exclamations in copy. And we generally don't say we're sorry. A machine is delivering this message, and our users can see through the false empathy. As for the "asynchronous error" copy, we try really hard to keep our content conversational. Unless you're a developer, you probably haven't used the word asynchronous with your friends in the past two weeks.
Take invoicing for a spin

Good

Take our invoicing for a spin

Use metaphor to make complex ideas engaging and encourage them to take action.

Not so good

Send an invoice and see what happens

It’s like that mystery box you’ve always wanted. But instead of a box, it’s an invoice.

A simile can help break down complex ideas, but in this case it does the opposite.
Use accounting terms for accountants

Good

To the average person, it’s merely a home to a favorite pair of sneakers, but to your Schedule C clients, this shoebox serves a different purpose.

Accountants understand terms like Schedule C, so it’s OK to use here. This presents the term in a familiar way that keeps it light and conversational.

Not so good

Expense Finder utilizes the power of QuickBooks to find all expenses, lighting-fast.

Stay away from hyped-up buzzwords and salesy pitches.
Defining chart of accounts

Good

Here’s the list of categories you’ll use to organize transactions. We call this your chart of accounts.

This introduces an accounting term by explaining it in an accessible way, and then giving it an official name.

Not so good

Your Chart of Accounts is a list of all the accounts you use to record transactions in your general ledger.

Starting with the accounting term intimidates people right away. Using jargon to define it makes them feel confused and adrift.