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UX Writing Glossary

When we started working on Strings, we ran into many concepts and terms we didn't know much about. We asked experts and collected resources to help us understand them better. We thought it might be a valuable resource to others who work on product content whether they are designers, product managers, developers, stakeholders and, of course, UX writers and content strategists.

Each term includes a definition and further reading material to easily explore the topic without getting lost on Google. We will expand and update this over time and welcome any ideas on how to improve it. Leave us a comment at the bottom of the page.

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UX Writing and Content Design
A/B testing
DEFINITION
A method of testing alternatives in user interfaces, often including alternatives in wording, to measure how they compare at achieving specific product goals when presented to customers. When more than 2 alternatives are being tested, this is sometimes called “A/B/n testing” or “multivariate testing.” The better A/B tests give as much thought to what is measured as to what the alternatives are.
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1. An introduction: A/B and see: a beginner’s guide to A/B testing
2. How to build an experimentation platform: The Netflix Experimentation Platform
3. Doing A/B testing right is complicated. Proceed with caution: 10 common mistakes we all make
Accessibility
DEFINITION
The art and science of making user interfaces usable by people with visual, auditory, physical, or other differences.

Inclusive design is closely related to accessibility, but rather than an outcome, it’s a methodology for how to approach design. It’s a process for creating a design that can be used by a diverse group of people.
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1. An introduction: A Primer to Web Accessibility for Designers
2. Detailed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: WCGA Quick Reference
3. More examples and best practices: Designing for accessibility is not that hard
Chatbots
DEFINITION
A software program that can conduct a text based conversation with a customer, replying to questions, taking instruction, solving support problems, and so on. Some chatbots are based on specific grammar models of what the designer expects a customer might say at any given point in a modeled conversation. Other chatbots use a programming technique called natural language processing (a kind of artificial intelligence, or “AI”) that is trained to understand what customers actually write. Others are a combination of the two approaches. Many chatbots combine text with buttons and other user interface elements to provide tappable, visual shortcuts to writing text.
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1. An introduction: An Introduction to Chatbots
2. Technical approaches to building chatbots: Introduction to Chatbot Development
3. Designing for chatbots: Complete Process of Designing a Website Chatbot
4. Bots everywhere: Chatbot Examples
Content strategy
DEFINITION
We like Kristina Halvorson’s pithy definition of the broad world of content strategy: “Content strategy plans for the creation, publications, and governance of useful, usable content.”

In the context of UX writing as a product design discipline, a content strategy is a plan for how you will use language to help your product achieve its goals: typical content strategies enumerate the product goals the strategy means to support, analyses of customers (audience), along with decisions about word choices, voice and tone, reading level, choices about which messaging channels to use for different message types and when, and functional examples of key terms, idioms, feature names, and phrases.

In the real world, most UX writers wear multiple hats, so they may practice other aspects of content strategy in their roles.
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1. An introduction: Complete Beginner's Guide to Content Strategy
2. Detailed how-to guide: How To Start Crafting a Content Strategy
3. The ultimate library about content strategy: The Epic List of Content Strategy Resources
Copy doc(ument)
DEFINITION
A copy doc is a unified view of a project's content. It's goal is to help all participants of a project (writers, stakeholders, developers etc) collaborate on and implement the copy for a given feature. The most common elements of a copy doc are product screens/visuals, the actual copy and any comments and explanation.
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Content design
DEFINITION
Content design is the craft of showing the right content for the right user at the right time. It involves arranging the right information in a layout or any structured format so that the most important and necessary info is most prominent and flows in a logical progression for users.
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1. Breaking down content design: What is content design
Conversational design
DEFINITION
Conversational design is an approach to user interaction design that takes its inspiration from how people interact with each other when following the commonly understood rules of cooperative conversation.
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1. An introduction: What is conversation design?
2. Erika Hall's book: Conversational Design
3. Some interesting academic theory behind conversational principles: Grice’s maxims
Error message
DEFINITION
A message presented to a customer when something goes wrong. The best error messages succinctly explain what’s gone wrong and how to get back on track or to fix the problem.
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1. How to guidance: How to write user-friendly error messages
2. More error message best practices: Error message guidelines
Error prevention
DEFINITION
Error prevention is a principle of product and content design that seeks to proactively supply users with the context and information they need to avoid predicaments or uninformed decision-making that could lead to errors.
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Preventing user errors: Slips and Mistakes
Fidelity
DEFINITION
Fidelity is the level of refinement and finish (visual design) that a set of designs present. Designs are often referred to be "low fidelity" or "high fidelity" meaning that they are either a rough approximation (low) or very close to the final release version (high).
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1. Different options for prototyping: UX Prototypes: Low Fidelity vs. High Fidelity
2. Finding the right fidelity for prototyping: Low-fidelity vs. high-fidelity prototyping
Form field
DEFINITION
The boxes or entry areas of a form that allow users to type in or select a response to an application's request for data. Examples are name and address fields, date selectors, credit card expiration date fields.
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Form validation
DEFINITION
Form validation is important to avoid that user-provided information is incomplete or badly formatted. Form validation can be done on the frontend and/or backend of a software application. Oftentimes the backend of an application that stores data will have requirements for the format of the information it can accept and read or use. Example: all email addresses must have the format "something@domain-name.domain"
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Best practices and examples: Form validation best practices
Information hierarchy
DEFINITION
The arrangement of words and design elements in a layout so that the most important info and actions are emphasized and easy to perceive over lesser elements. Information hierarchy can be influenced by changing, for example, the contrast, scale, and balance of the elements.
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Internationalization (i18n)
DEFINITION
The practice of designing and engineering a product so that it can be easily localized into many different countries and languages.
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1. A great summary and examples: Design for internationalization
2. What's the difference? Localization vs. Internationalization
Localization (l10n)
DEFINITION
The process of converting the language and other components of a user interface to be appropriate and intuitive for cultures other than the one the interface was originally created for. This is more than just translation, but also changes to idioms, currencies, dates and times, and other aspects of the user experience, sometimes even altering features to be locally appropriate.
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1. An introduction: Localization Introduction
2. A deep-dive into localization: Localization sounds simple, but it is not
3. Technical localization guides: iOS / Android / Web
Microcopy
DEFINITION
A term that refers to the typically short words and phrases in a user interface: the copy in buttons, dialogs, forms, and so on. “Micro” because on mobile interfaces, in particular, there is typically very little room for more than a handful of characters for each component.
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1. An introduction: Why Small Words Matter
2. Great microcopy examples: My favourite microcopy
3. More microcopy examples: Best microcopy examples
4. Kinneret Yifrah's Complete Guide to Microcopy
Mockup (or mock)
DEFINITION
A mockup is a more refined version of an interface design. Unlike a wireframe, a mockup shows how a product is going to look like and includes visual design elements such as colors, typography and images.
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Distinguishing between wireframes, mockups and prototypes: Wireframe, Mockup, Prototype: What is What?
Personalization
DEFINITION
An approach to interaction design that attempts to customize the user experience for each customer based on information about the customer and the current context.
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1. A great overview and summary of challenges: Navigating the personalization gap
Progressive disclosure
DEFINITION
In interaction design, progressive disclosure means using design elements like drop down boxes to initially hide, and then expose, additional info after a user clicks or interacts in some way. The purpose of progressive disclosure is to avoid overburdening users with too much information unless they choose to seek it out.
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Prototype
DEFINITION
A prototype is a model of a product or feature that simulates the user experience in various degrees of fidelity. It’s principally used to test usability with target users. Prototypes can be created in design software or in front-end code. The difference between a prototype and the final product is that the interface is usually not tied into the backend software systems.
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Distinguishing between wireframes, mockups and prototypes: Wireframe, Mockup, Prototype: What is What?
Push notification
DEFINITION
A message sent to the user of an app as a reminder or call to action, using a mobile operating system’s notification system, rather than through the UI of the app itself. Different mobile operating systems have different ways of delivering push notifications, such as on lock screens or in a “drawer” that drops down from the top of the screen. The most effective notifications are very short (25 characters is ideal) and place the most important info at the beginning.
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Best practices and examples: Push notifications best practices
Style guide (content)
DEFINITION
A document of decisions about the vocabulary, idioms, spelling, syntax, grammar, and other deliberate language choices on how to write for a product.
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1. How to get started: How to Create a Content Style Guide
2. Examples for inspiration and envy: Mailchimp, Adobe and many more
T-shaped design orgs
DEFINITION
In a T-shaped design organization, each designer has responsibilities that span all product design sub-disciplines, but typically also has deeper domain expertise in one discipline.  In this approach writers are product designers first but bring deep content design expertise to the table. For this organizational structure to be effective, writers need to have a good understanding of other product design disciplines including visual design, UX and user research and need to have a holistic understanding of building software and collaborating with product and engineering teams.
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1. Diving deeper: Becoming a T-Shaped Designer
2. Interview with Tim Brown (IDEO CEO): T-Shaped Stars

Tooltip
DEFINITION
Tooltips are containerized bits of text that guide users as they work through screens or forms in an interface. Tooltips can be interactive, as in info bubbles that appear when a user taps an icon, like a question mark icon (?), or they can appear in order to provide validation guidance, for example, when a user taps in a form field. (Alternative terms: Info bubble, helper text)
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Tooltips best practices and examples: Tooltip guidelines
Usability
DEFINITION
Usability refers to how easy it is for a customer to use an application to get something done. Does the design and text of the application make it easy for the customer to discover, understand, and perform a given task?
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What is usability: Usability 101

Voice and tone
DEFINITION
Voice is the personality of your product. A good voice, like a reliable, trustworthy person, is consistent and recognizable. Contrast voice with tone, which is about emotion: tone varies with context, while never departing from a consistent voice. Imagine someone you know and trust: you know their personality as one of their consistent traits, but you expect their tone to be different depending on the situation. They could be congratulatory, sympathetic, or just trying to be efficiently helpful to you, but in a consistently recognizable voice.  

The voice and tone of a product can be a key building block of a company’s brand, just like a logo, color scheme, visual design language, etc. Customers are more likely to stay loyal to a brand that they have consistent interactions with and that they easily recognize. The biggest challenge to consistency is that many people within an organization might write content but use different strategies and voices. A clear content strategy and style guide that include voice and tone guidelines can help to create a consistent voice and range of tones for a brand.
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1. How to get started: Creating your product’s tone and voice
2. Creating consistency and empathy: How to use voice and tone in UX writing
3. Diving deeper: The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice
Voice-user interface  (VUI)
DEFINITION
Voice-user interfaces allow user to interact with computer systems through voice or speech commands. Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa are all examples of VUIs.
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How to design for VUI:  The Ultimate Designer’s Guide
Whitespace
DEFINITION
The area surrounding text or other design elements that is left blank. Effective use of white space can make the content it surrounds easier to parse and understand. White space does not necessarily mean it’s actually white background space. It could be of any color, texture, or pattern.
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Using whitespace in design: The importance of whitespace
Wireframe
DEFINITION
A wireframe is an early, rough outline of what an interface could look like and how it could function. Similar to a blueprint of a building, a wireframe shows the main parts of content as abstract forms with little to no visual design.
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Distinguishing between wireframes, mockups and prototypes: Wireframe, Mockup, Prototype: What is What?
Technical Terms
Alpha, beta and general availability (GA)
DEFINITION
These are commonly used terms to describe the maturity of a software feature or product.

Alpha generally refers to an early version of software that includes the core functionality but not everything specified for the final product. An alpha release is often only distributed for internal test users.

A beta release is usually the first feature-complete version of a software but may still contain bugs. Beta releases are often shared in a controlled environment with a small group of test users with the goal to provide feedback and discover bugs.

General availability is a feature complete software that reached the marketing stage and is widely available to the target audience of the product.
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Software release terms defined: Software release cycles
Backend
DEFINITION
The backend of a software application often handles business logic, stores data and integrates with other systems and programs. Depending on the development approach some parts of a frontend experience can also be delivered directly from the backend and merely displayed on the customer’s device by the frontend (this is called server-side rendering).
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1. A good non-technical overview: Frontend vs. Backend: What's the Difference?
Branch
DEFINITION
A branch is a working copy of a code base that a developer makes so that she can make and test changes, add new features, and so on. Sometimes the branch then becomes the new main branch. Other times, some or all changes are copied from the branch into the main branch.
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1. A good summary of how branches are used: About branches
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
DEFINITION
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a software language that is used to describe the presentation of a web application. It defines the visual styling such as typography (font family, font size) padding, margin, and layout of HTML elements in the presentation layer of applications.
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Overview: What is CSS
Escape characters
DEFINITION
Escape characters (also called escape sequences or escape codes) are used to signal an alternative interpretation of a series of characters that follow the escape character. Escaping special characters is important so a computer doesn’t interpret them as code but as human readable text.

For example if you wanted to display the following text String A in an user interface: “She asked “Where is the train station.” “, it may have be coded as String A = “She asked \”Where is the train station\””. Without the escape character “\”, this string could be displayed incorrectly or even break the code. Which characters need to be escaped and how depends on each programming language.
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Frontend
DEFINITION
The frontend of a software application is often referred to as the part of the code base that is loaded directly onto the user’s device to display an app to the user. Typical frontend technologies include HTML, CSS and Javascript for web applications, Swift or Objective C for iOS and Kotlin or Java for Android. Especially in web development the line between frontend and backend development can be blurry as the user interface can be created both using frontend technologies or on the server (also called server-side rendering).
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1. A good non-technical overview: Frontend vs. Backend: What's the Difference?
H-tag
DEFINITION
In HTML syntax, H tags determine the information hierarchy of headlines and subheadlines in the presentation layer of applications. For the most part, only H1 (major heading) through H4 (minor subheading) are commonly used. The font, size, other presentation attributes are best set through Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or other templating systems, rather than specifying them in the H tag itself.
Pull request
DEFINITION
Developers use pull requests to notify other developers on their team that they made a change to a code base (for example, if they completed a feature). Others on the team can review that change, provide feedback, and merge it into the main code base.
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1. How pull requests work: About pull requests
Repository
DEFINITION
A software repository (or repo) is a storage system where source code files are stored and accessed by a software development team.
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1. What's a respository: About repositories
String
DEFINITION
In software applications, a string is a data type used to represent text rather than numbers or logic. It’s generally used to represent text displayed in a user interface in the app’s code base. Strings can contain static text, that is, text that never changes, and variables. Typical variables include names, dates, numbers, and other information that change based on the user and context (see Variable Data).
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Strings file
DEFINITION
A strings file (or strings resources file) is a file in an app’s code base that contains some or all of an app’s strings and associated keys and metadata. Alternatively, software teams can decide to embed text strings directly in their code (also called "hard coding" of strings). As the size and complexity of a code base increases, many software teams centralize text strings into one or multiple unified strings files to help with maintainability of a code base and facilitate localization.
String key
DEFINITION
Each string in an app has a unique identifying key. Frequently, the files that contain the code for how an app works don’t contain the actual text of the strings for the app’s user interface. Instead, the strings are gathered up in a separate strings file. The app uses the key in the code to find the correct string in the strings file to display in the user interface.

An example of a string key and value (ie the user-facing copy):
welcome-message = “Welcome to this awesome community”
String description
DEFINITION
A comment about a string that engineers, writers, localizers, and other members of the product development  team can see when working on the product, but that is not displayed to customers in the user interface. Typical string descriptions include contextual information about the string, such as what UI component it’s used in (such as a button, error message, form element), how many characters will fit, what its purpose and role is in the interface, and any unguessable notes about language choices, all of which provide context for the localization team, so that they have enough context to do the best possible job localizing the string for other cultures.
Variable (or dynamic) data
DEFINITION
A component of a string that changes depending on context, such as a name, the date or time, a number (“you’ve ordered 3 pizzas”). Variables in strings are represented differently depending on the programming language used to build the app or website. When editing a string that includes a variable, it’s important to preserve the syntax of its variables, and to coordinate with engineering if you need to add, remove, or change a variable.
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1. Different approaches to adding variables: Four Ways to Print Variables in Strings
2. For iOS (Swift): Combining Strings and Variables
3. For Android (Kotlin): Kotlin Strings
Version control system
DEFINITION
Version Control Systems (or VCS) are software programs that help development teams manage changes to source code over time. The most popular type of a version control system today is Git. The most popular VCS products are Github, Bitbucket and Gitlab.
A VCS allows software teams to work on a code base concurrently. For example, if two developers work on the same code, the VCS workflow will help the developers resolve potential conflicts at the time they submit their changes.
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1. An great summary: What is version control

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