Writing the User Interface

I have to apologize in advance. The great Jeffrey Zeldman gave a talk with this exact title at the Event Apart conference a few years ago in Boston. His talk was much more in-depth than this post will be, but it was the impetus behind this post. Since seeing that talk, I’ve been on the lookout for good examples of written user interface and try to incorporate it into my work as often as possible.

Today, I was flying home from a great research trip to New York and Washington, when a nice man offered his previously-read copy of the Wall Street Journal to myself and my traveling partner.

Despite being ‘in business’, I’ve never really read the WSJ. Always kind of assumed it to be dry and overly business-like. Turns out, it’s more general interest than I realized. I expected it to be pretty inaccessible, when in fact it’s well written and covers a broad range of interesting topics.

But the one thing that stood out to me more than anything was how they handled the interface between the lead-in for a story and the continued copy deeper in the paper. This has undoubtedly been a hotly-contested issue at many papers. “How do we get people to continue reading?” In this day and age where people are inundated with media, we want our readers to glean more than just the headlines. So, aside from a well-written and interesting story, how can we encourage users to keep going?

The Halifax Herald is pretty brash on this front. In bold letters at the end of the first passage, it simply proclaims ‘Page 2‘. This does nothing to make me want to move on and finish the story, even if it’s a great piece.

The thing I noticed in the Wall Street Journal was this simple phrase: “Please turn to page 2“. It’s so much nicer. It prods you gently to make the move to the next page, and it’s polite. In a world where so much media is interruptive and rude, this is pleasant, relaxed, encouraging.

I’ve read stories about the differences in conversion between “Read More” and “Continue Reading” and how one caused 5% more users to purchase a product than the other, but I think this goes deeper than that. It’s about being polite, and human in your writing and your interface. As my mother always said, “you’ll get farther with sugar than with salt”. I think that’s especially true with web writing. What do you think?

Previously posted on

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