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UX writing guide



Contractions are handy for adjusting your tone. Using them makes your writing sound more casual. Not using them makes your writing sound more formal. That said, if you wouldn’t use the contraction in everyday speech, avoid using it in your writing. And while BigCommerce is a Texas company, let’s avoid “y’all,” y’all.

Aren’t, can’t, couldn’t, could’ve, didn’t, don’t, doesn’t, hasn’t, haven’t, isn’t, let’s, shouldn’t, should’ve, that’s, there’s, they’re, we’ll, weren’t, we’ve, wasn’t, won’t, wouldn’t, you’ll, you’re

Ain’t, e’er, mightn’t, mustn’t, o’clock, shan’t, ‘twas, y’all


Always use numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) instead of writing out numbers (one, two, three, etc.). This is a big departure from traditional writing style. Keep in mind, you're writing for the web and the old rules were made with print in mind.

From Nielsen Norman Group (opens in a new tab) (NN/g):

When writing for the Web:

  • Write numbers with digits, not letters (23, not twenty-three).

  • Use numerals even when the number is the first word in a sentence or bullet point.

  • Use numerals for big numbers up to one billion:

    • 2,000,000 is better than two million.

    • Two trillion is better than 2,000,000,000,000 because most people can't interpret that many zeros.

    • As a compromise, you can often use numerals for the significant digits and write out the magnitude as a word. For example, write 24 billion (not twenty-four billion or 24,000,000,000).

NN/g still recommends writing out numbers that don’t represent specific data. In the example below, it’s better to write out “thousands” than “1000s.”

Thousands of online stores are created using BigCommerce every year.

Active vs. passive voice

Try to use the active voice. It’s simpler and more direct than the passive voice. Not sure what the difference is between active and passive? Here are some examples:

Choose a payment methodChoose the preferred payment method
We recommend…It is recommended…
Turn on the settingThe setting should be turned on

As you can see, with the passive voice it’s not clear who the subject is and who’s doing the acting. It’s indirect, confusing and wordy. Granted, writing in the active voice can sometimes feel too direct, even a little bossy. Users, however, appreciate it when you give them the info they need without a lot of fluff.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Here’s when it might be okay to use the passive voice:

  • To avoid referencing BigCommerce or your app by name when doing so would be distracting
  • To make it clear that BigCommerce or your app didn’t personally take an action or make a decision; rather, the software took the action
  • If the object or the action are more important than the subject doing the action
BigCommerce will create and email your invoices monthly to

BigCommerce creates and emails your invoices monthly to


A plurality occurs when the copy changes depending on the number of items you’re writing about. Whenever possible, write unique copy for the singular and plural forms, displaying the appropriate version as needed. If the possibility of a plural exists, but technological limitations prevent you from using variable copy, then default to the plural form.

  • You have a new message.
  • You have 10 new messages.
  • You have a new message or messages.
  • You have a new message(s).

Present vs. past tense

Write using the present tense. It’s immediate, direct and concise.

For confirmation, success and error messages it’s okay to use the past participle to express an action that was completed at some point in the past.

Past participles usually end with “-ed,” “-d,” “-t,” “-en” or “-n.”

  • Settings saved
  • App installed
  • Payment failed
  • Message sent
  • Settings have been saved
  • App was installed
  • Payment has failed
  • Message was sent
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