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24 ways to impress your friends

The Construction of Instruction


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I’m a 24 freshman, first year for me. Love the content, great insight. Content is as important as graphic design, glad to hear someone finally say it. Thanks Relly.


Very useful! Discussions about website copy often lump all text together as “content”, but clearly this microcopy is more about usability and design than content. That said, the distinctions between all of these labels ultimately break down when you consider how inter-dependent they are.

However, there is a danger that too many words in an attempt to clarify will actually obfuscate. This puts me in mind of an Open University course that had 4 times as many pages devoted to instructions for writing an assignment as were in the original material being studied. Every time a student showed evidence of missing the point, the course directors would add more explanation.

A little goes a long way and maybe best saved for those times when common conventions and user expectations are being tweaked.


I’m glad it’s time for 24 again. Awesome post, as usual!
Cheers Relly!

ps/ does anyone know of other good articles about copy writing?

Russell Bishop

Very interesting read!

We try not to allow our clients the privilege to write their own copy, as we don’t like the wait and the end quality – we have our trusty copywriter do all the hard work and we end up with great stuff!

Relly Annett-Baker

Marc – some great copywriting articles can be found at . I especially rate their copywriting 101 series for people faced with writing copy for the first time.
Josh Porter’s blog also covers a lot of the design areas where content and design converge.

Dead tree style – the Words that Sell series are classics, and I always recommend Andy Maslen’s ‘Write to Sell’ as a slim volume that packs a lot of good advice in.


This was a great article, reminding us that quite often we expect the passive consumers of content to be active, while forgetting to help them through that process.

Helpful microcopy needs to be punchy and obvious – we all know that people don’t read instructions, least of all on the Web – and you’ve provided some great examples.


Recently I worked on a site where the default error message, to account for anything happening that the developers hadn’t accounted for, was ‘SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG!’.

I think an entire 24ways post could be done revolving around this issue to be honest. The amount of times projects make it all the way through to deployment without anyone outside the tech team even acknowledging that there are things like 500 pages, 404 pages and various error messages that need Design, Usability and IA consideration is ridiculous.


Steerpike – it almost was. I ended cutting out another 1k+ words on just this sort of stuff :)
If the tech teams were able to rely on some better default messages that the Design/UX/IA crowd knew worked than that would be a good start. Like you said, an article for the future perhaps.

Simon Fairbairn

Brilliant post. The first bartender example is just awesome – it describes perfectly the user experience I’ve had on too many sites.

It really is amazing how much difference one sentence can make. I’d better go and check all of my sites…

Dave McDermid

Excellent article Relly, totally agree.

I can’t help but feel I was partially responsible for the proliferation of that particular “SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG!” message. The new message is much more reassuring, I have taken note!


Ah, Dave! Don’t worry, yours is but one example in a very big file of them I have. I just think it is something that, as an industry, we only now have the time and resource to start working on.


what a brilliant article, Relly!
Fantastic advice and beautifully written – I know I’ll be referring a lot of people, colleagues and clients alike, to this :) You really bring home the ‘power of word’ message, so very true and so vital – thanks :)


Relly, this is awesome stuff. : )

And to the copywriting dead-tree reading list, I’ll add Letting Go of the Words by Janice (Ginny) Redish. It’s a nice introduction.

Helen Sargan

Although it has other related content in it, so isn’t just about writing style, I’d recommend looking at The Web Style Guide, Chapter 9 ( The website is also available as a book, which I find easier to use.

Tiago Pedras

Indeed this particular kind of content is an important part of an interface’s usability. You simply should not expect design to be the only responsible for a good conversion rate.

Since most of the times it’s the designer that has to start planning content and content holders, shouldn’t they handle it in a most enjoyable way for the user?

Kudos for Relly! =D


Best error message I’ve ever seen (and corrected) in code: “You must select a time between now and infinity.”

Um, yeah. Absolutely correct. And dumb as shit.

Joe Reichsfeld

Excellent post and analogy. It is our job as designers and business managers to help the customer through the process. We are the professionals, the consumer is the newbie. As a former hotel/restaurant manager, now e-commerce consultant, I used to preach to employees that they know the product better than the guest. Their job was to gather information and deliver results, ‘tour the menu’ with the new guest, welcome the returning guest back and stun them when you know their name and offer to bring them their favorite drink by name. When I go out, I expect service, do not make me think. Tell me what & how to have the best experience. We have to recognize that on the internet. Everyday we encounter businesses that inconvenience the customer to convenience the business by not eliminating barriers or keeping things simple. If you shop on the net much, then you have an Amazon account (they dont accept paypal), a paypal account, a google shopping account. I guess visa is just Visa is not good enough anymore. I dont shop much on the net, nor do I use paypal. I guard my personal info because what is secure today is not tomorrow. If you don’t tkae by Visa, then you don’t get my sale! Great post, it is too bad this isn’t part of web 101.

Berthold Barth

What a perfectly gorgeous article. My hat, along with the flower on the rim and the fake beard off to you. You can now quip back or smile. Which one will it be?

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