With diminishing attention spans, online irritability and seemingly less time than ever to GET SHIT DONE, it follows that there’s more of a focus than ever on getting shorter copy messages right.

A bad instruction or confirmation message on a website can leave you stranded like a missing road sign: an inconsistent or off-brand advert or reminder can leave you hovering over ‘delete’ wondering whether the message is spam: and an unhelpful or unapologetic error message can leave you with… well with a fist-shaped hole in your monitor (or a long walk to retrieve your hurled phone).

What say we have a look at some examples?

The holy sacrament of confirmation

Know what I hate? When you’re offered a ‘contact us’ form on a website. And you fill it out. Leaving your details, and perhaps composing quite a long query/complaint that you wouldn’t think to save elsewhere. And then you hit send and nothing happens, or the fields go blank, or you’re returned to the homepage.

What happened to my message? Did it send? Did it disappear? Please don’t make me think I might have to write it again. it took f**king ages and no matter how long I spend, it’ll never be as good the second time…

Something like the below would’ve done the job:

But beyond simply confirming your message has been sent or your application has been processed, isn’t it a lovely opportunity for a bit of feel-good brand-building? MailChimp does this very nicely, acting like a supportive teammate in your email marketing efforts.

I DO want to fist bump that monkey when I’ve just sent out an important message to a huge distribution list!

Error code 472

The above message doesn’t help me do what I’m wanting to do. And the exclamation marks and red font don’t help me stay as calm as I want to stay. Worse still are the ‘internal code’ error messages. I don’t really care that error code DX4529 has been activated when I’ve tried to access a different page from your menu. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO HELP ME GET THERE?!?

There’s a rather nice article about the art of error message writing here.

One more thing while we’re here. Although it’s very jolly and informal, a message reading ‘Ooops! Looks like you’ve taken a wrong turn!’ when I’m only trying to visit a different part of your site is rather irritating. I didn’t take a wrong turn. I didn’t do an ‘oopsy’. Your links are broken and you should APOLOGISE UNTO ME. BOW DOWN.

Any other shorties?

There are opportunities for effective, helpful and lighthearted short-copy messages everywhere. And similarly there are opportunities to get it wrong.

Don’t tell me you can’t respond to my message because you’re on annual leave sunning yourself in Bali. I’ll be jealous and I’ll think you’re a big old show-off. But a message like the one below makes me smile, makes me think you’ve got a personality, and makes me look forward to when you’re back and we can communicate.

And that ‘sent from my iPhone/Huawei/Samsung Galaxy 37’ message that defaults at the end of emails you’re sending from your mobile? Rather than telling everyone which phone I’ve got or offering the manufacturer some free promotion, I like to change it to something like ‘sent from my unspecified brand of mobile telephone’. Or just ‘sent from the batphone’.


So pay attention to the little messages. Word for word, they might just be the most important ones you’ll ever pen.