To quote Illan Gonen, lecturer in Modern Hebrew language at Columbia University: “The internet has broken the old barrier between written and spoken language, giving birth to a third option: conversational writing.”.
Concern over grammatical correctness in the written language can push us away from human dialogue, where engagement prevails and little attention is paid to the construction of phrases or the use of verbs, pronouns and words.
That’s one reason why so many consider the Internet to be a cold and robotic place – and most of the time, they’re not wrong. But as Gonen notes, that may all be about to change.
The new dynamic of conversational writing
Gonen is not advocating for the abandonment of linguistic norms, but rather suggesting that we meet them halfway with more colloquial expressions. After all, the writing behind User Experience (UX) is drafted by humans and should imply a one-to-one dialogue, as if there were a real person behind every device screen.
This “real person”, usually an Artificially Intelligent robot, should behave as if it has already interacted with the real world and anticipate which options the user may choose as if it were a real employee with past experience in the area.
Creating more natural and realistic tools, such as a flowchart creator, lets us build the flow of the dialogue, accounting for all possible destinations. Let’s look at this conversation with a chatbot below:
Conversational interfaces have reduced the user experience to lines of text. With bots, UX becomes conversational, products speak, and characters now flow both ways. Every bot has a voice — which means that every bot needs a personality.Jess Thoms
You don’t need to be playful if this behavior doesn’t match your brand’s identity. But humanized dialogue is important, no matter how simplistic. Every company and designer has their own methodology or form for creating these conversational experiences.
It’s hard to tell whether this is an AI or a real person chatting with the customer, right?
Conversational writing attributes
The words written on an interface are the instruments of our conversation. The more human they appear, the better the user experience and the understanding between the two dialogue participants.
According to Paul Pangaro, professor of the Practice at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute:
… an interface is a technology that connects participants (human or machine). Conversation is a series of exchanges through which we understand each other, and that builds an evolving relationship (living together). Since we need conversation in order to collaborate on intentions and actions, the quality and history of those exchanges matter (a lot).
Below, you will find some tips to build a human dialogue with your users throughout your digital products, services, chatbots and communications in general.
Being human doesn’t mean being wordy – your texts should only say enough to convey all the necessary information. They should be objective and clear, and use simple language, with no unnecessary adjectives.
Remember that a conversation is a punctual exchange of information between people, or between people and machines, to achieve a common goal. “A product succeeds because it solves a problem for people. This sounds very basic, but it is the single most important thing to understand about building good products”, to quote writer and former product designer Julie Zhuo. And the same is true for UX.
Don’t make your user think. Use simple language and words that everyone can understand, regardless of region, social class and education. Try to figure out the natural language of users in the digital environment.
A text with a high rate of terms which are unfamiliar to the reader makes it impossible for them to interpret its meaning.
Conversational writing should provoke interest in the user, leading them to the desired action (i.e., clicking on a link, downloading a document, commenting and sharing, etc.).
Persuasive design seeks to document and utilize our cognitive biases and similar insights from psychology into persuasive patterns so that they can be more easily applied to product design. By documenting recurring solutions, based on psychology, that have solved common design problems, persuasive patterns are standard reference points for the experienced product designer.Anders Toxboe
Voice usage and standardization are important in UX. Company names must be written in a standard way, as should area names, calls to action, instructions, capitalization, etc. And don’t forget that “voice” and “tone” are not the same thing.
Voice reflects the brand’s core identity. Tone, on the other hand, should reflect the context and situation in question: is it neutral, happy or sad?
“Yay, your payment has been approved”… or “something went wrong”? You can’t communicate both pieces of information in the same way, because they will not be perceived in the same way by the user. So consistency is all about displaying different aspects of your brand’s identity according to the context – like a trustworthy friend.
Other crucial attributes
- Natural, polite and grammatically correct writing.
- Ask questions, without overdoing it.
- Use the active voice instead of the passive voice.
- Use connecting words whenever possible.
- Speak directly to users.
- Use prepositions, articles and connecting words to sound more natural:
Conversational writing involves an exchange between two or more people, and it takes place via some key elements:
It doesn’t matter whether we’re communicating face-to-face, in a store, or through a screen on an e-commerce platform. Every interaction should be perceived in human terms, and that is only possible through dialogue.