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I wrote a piece about micro-copywriting earlier this year, and in my ignorance thought this was a new concept, and that I may even have coined the term.

Shows you what I know. It’s a term that’s been used for a number of years, and great examples have been collected already, e.g. this Flickr Microcopy Group (thanks to Doug Kessler for pointing to this).

As the last post was popular I thought I’d bring together some more examples. So here’s a look at some micro-copy from the log-in error messages of four big players in the tech world.

These were easy to collect as I didn’t have to remember my passwords. In the end I found that although this could be an area where it’s not worth trifling with a user’s frustration, there’s still a lot to be improved upon.

And although looking at some of these fine-grained areas could be seen as the pedantry of a dilettante, I like to think of these little things as a microcosm of brand identity.

The 'definitely bad' - Microsoft

A tired story with Microsoft, the little details aren’t done particularly well. In Hotmail below, the phrasing ‘that Microsoft account doesn’t exist’ is just plain bad English.

Best not to refer to the Microsoft account if it doesn’t exist, right? This could get very philosophical. If a tree doesn't exist, is it still a tree?

The point is, why not go with something along the lines of 'We can't find a Microsoft account with this email address. Please try again'?

Below this wording there’s a link to ‘get a new account’ that’s highlighted and may frustrate the user, who more often than not, won’t want a new account, but just to get into their existing one.

The incorrect password error-message is just as silly. ‘Be sure you’re using the password for your Microsoft account’. In case you were ceaselessly bashing in your Amazon password…..

The 'form over function' - Twitter

Below you can see some creative copy from Twitter as it’s ‘suspicious’ of my failed attempt to log in. ‘We gotta check..are you human?’.

That’s quite nice, and more creative than other examples, but unfortunately the captcha that’s used is often on the barmy end of the unreadable captcha scale and even with an easy one, as above, Twitter wasn’t letting me sign in.

Granted I was doing this on a day when Twitter had been flaky, but it goes to highlight the point that you can only be creative with your micro-copy if you know it’s the cherry.

The 'can definitely be improved' - Facebook

‘The email you entered does not belong to any account’. No hint of what human error could cause this and more importantly how Facebook can help.

Although this message is fit for purpose, it just about does the minimum, and signs off with the almost patronising (sigh along) ‘Make sure that it is typed correctly’. Sounds like Q berating James Bond.

The 'we’ve got the chops to help' – Google

Google’s error message is ‘vanilla’, but the rather humble question mark links to a brilliant and comprehensive help page (necessary with Google’s handy suite of security options sometimes making it ‘harder’ to gain access).

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'The troubleshooter will guide you through two to five questions, depending on the options you select'. Very nice. Then the options are laid out in first person - 'I forgot my password' etc. Again a simple touch that the other players sometimes forget.

Maybe Google could throw around a bit more of their nice-surprise branding here, but I think I’m beginning to realise that these areas are just about getting it ‘right’, not ‘right-on’, and Google is still leading the way.

Ben Davis

Published 4 February, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

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Elaine Fogel

So true, Ben! And, you made the topic amusing to boot. :)

BTW, I find Captcha more annoying than lousy micro-copy. :(

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Elaine

Ha, I even tried switching to audio captcha with Twitter but that's just as difficult. You should give it a try if you haven't.

over 3 years ago

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