Neat UX Writing Tricks I Learned From Microsoft

Photo by Johny vino on Unsplash

What do I like most about Microsoft? ChatGPT and that Stonehenge wallpaper. Microsoft’s simple and clear UX writing has a special place in my heart, too. Their website is in my top 5 resources I check out when I’m desperate for words.

Whereas ChatGPT inspires me to write better so I don’t lose my job, Microsoft’s website is more like a protective father figure when it comes to finding words.

Microsoft’s copy is so neat and pretty… Oh, I should probably use my professional voice. By neat and pretty I mean accessible and easy to follow.

I’ve meticulously studied their official style guide — it cost me 3 espressos, 3 days, and 1 party I missed. These are the tricks I learned.

Let’s start with error messages. Everyone hates error messages by default, even more so if they’re technical and non-specific. Like this one:

Technical and non-specific error message

Errors evoke the lion’s share of negative emotions in UX. Let’s treat them as opportunities instead, just like Microsoft.

Microsoft uses positive examples instead of your regular error message. How very kind of them to treat the user like a human being and not a robot:

Positive example of an action user needs to do to resolve the issue

What does “positive” example mean? It’s not about the message having good vibes or being optimistic. It’s a description of what users need to do, not what they shouldn’t do.

Frontloading, to put it simply, is moving the most important words to the beginning of the sentence. Why do that? So people can scan them without having to read the sentence several times to understand it.

People really suck at reading, you know. So the message below will inevitably be skipped:

Text that starts slowly and doesn’t frontload. Maybe good for internal Confluence but not UX

What templates? I don’t have time for templates, I know what they’re for.

By frontloading the value first (e.g., time-saving feature), you will get the user motivated to read further. Microsoft teaches you to do just that:

Text that frontloads the value

Frontloading is an obvious thing for UX but I can never cease to appreciate Microsofts’ nimble writing. Also, notice how they start sentences with a verb. That’s important.

This got me startled! We sometimes begin sentences with “You can…” for tooltips, for example, to sound more human. Microsoft is against that and maybe they’re right. Consice writing is a part of human-centered design, after all.

See this notification that starts in a relaxed, “you can” way:

“You can” notification

Now compare the same notification to a more dynamic one with frontloaded value. This one also starts with a verb:

Notification with “you can” edited out and value put at the very beginning

Personally, I’d definitely want to start cutting my sentences more from now on. You shouldn’t sacrifice briefness for the sake of sounding more polite (if you didn’t mess up before, you should be polite in error messages and such).

Don’t think this title needs an explanation.

  1. Microsoft sticks with you instead of he/she or other gender pronouns.


If the user has the appropriate rights, he can set other users’ passwords.


If you have the appropriate rights, you can set other users’ passwords.

2. If it’s not possible to avoid pronouns, Microsoft uses they, person, individual.

3. Depending on the context, it’s also an option to refer to a person’s function: employee, engineer, scientist, etc.

However, if you’re writing an interview with a certain Susie who is perfectly fine with she/her pronouns, use she/her when talking about her.

The skills that Susie developed in the Marines helped her move into a thriving technology career.

As a rule, avoid “unconscious racial bias or terms”. If you’re not sure you know them all, google a few lists.

For example:

  • spirit animal (avoid)
  • prostitute (use sex worker instead)
  • mankind (use humanity instead)

My favorite one: English native speaker meaning someone with an excellent command of written and oral English.

Don’t imply pity with words: stricken with or suffering from. Confined to a wheelchair.

Users should know what to do, not which buttons to click or tap.

Something else from Sarah Winters: don’t mention that a feature can be seen in the “right corner of the screen” or whichever else corner. Design changes quickly, and in a few months or a year that “right corner” button might get moved to the left.

Describing the physical location of a button/toggle/switch on the digital website is kinda stupid.

The verb “select” is a savior. It not only helps to “name” certain UI elements without actually naming them but also resolves the issue of “click/tap” wording for desktop and mobile users.

Go to Tools, and select Change language.

Three to seven lines is the optimal length. So, you see, to prove the point, I will now have to write a three-line paragraph. After I will finish writing this paragraph, I’ll go get another coffee. Maybe a freddo espresso.

Microsoft says it’s also fine to have a single-line paragraph now and then.

Depending on where you put the word in a sentence, the message changes:

There are files on the disk that can’t be removed.


There are files that can’t be removed on the disk.

Which sentence is correct? The first one has a double meaning:

  • The files can’t be removed.
  • The disk can’t be removed.

The second one is clear. You can also replace “on” with “from”.

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