How to unburden your words

It’s okay to say, “words can’t solve that problem.”

Jason Fox
3 min readNov 8, 2022

Hey, here’s a reminder that it’s okay to say, “words can’t solve that problem.”

Because maybe you’ve wanted to say that before. Maybe you’ve struggled to justify a complex or difficult experience through writing. Maybe someone you work with explained why things have to be a certain way and then asked you to write a bit of copy to smooth things over. After all, it’s your job to find the perfect words, right?

Well, not really. Words should describe reality, not bear the burden of making something broken appear less broken… or intentionally broken?

So, if you find yourself toiling over a torturous UX writing task, chances are your words are overburdened. What I mean by that is that you’re using words to convince yourself and your audience and your stakeholders that everything is as intended. You’re using those words to compensate for the fact that the larger system of communication has been neglected.

UX writing can’t fix a neglected communication system 🔥

That larger system consists of many things. It consists of business and product intent. Of strategy and design solutions. Even of graphical content. It is a system of which words are just one part. The sum of all those parts is the delivery or representation of meaning and information.

So if you’re approaching an experience thinking that words alone are going to alter reality, you’re going to have a difficult time. And the people who encounter your words are going to chafe at the friction induced by an overlooked communication system.

Effective and neglected communication systems.

Take, for example, a cancellation flow. There are many factors at play in designing the situation around someone’s desire to cancel a thing. If you were to make it intuitive and accessible, you’re likely to hear from product managers about an adverse impact on business goals. But if you make it too hard, you inadvertently communicate a message to your users that you value them as a unit of profit rather than as a human with needs and desires.

A properly functioning communication system will take into account all of the competing factors, from business goals and end-to-end product strategy all the way through UX writing. And if you’ve put the emphasis on the system, not on the words, your words will be free to describe an intentional reality. One that you’ve decided is worth embracing.

Example cancellation interface that reads: Are you sure you want to cancel? We understand you might need to cancel. You can reactivate your account at any time! Yes, cancel my account No, don’t cancel

Whaddya think about that?

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