Why Consistent Language Matters

Georgina Laidlaw

We’ve talked a lot about using consistent language in your app or product interfaces, and in the help pages, emails, and other materials that surround them.

But why does consistency matter so much?

Let’s take a few examples of consistency, and see what they add to the user experience.

Brand vocabulary

As we saw when we discussed brand vocabulary, consistency around the language you use to explain what you’re talking about helps users to understand your product.

This is especially important if you’re targeting people who are new to your product or product category. Consistently calling a free product upgrade a “bonus”, for example, ensures that people know exactly what you’re talking about. If you use a range of terms–bonus, add-on, free upgrade, special deal–it may well take them longer to feel comfortable with your offering.

So, consistency helps users understand and anticipate your offering.

Standard phrasing

If you have to give users the same instructions or advice in a number of places, assuming the context allows it, I’d always advocate using the same phrasing to provide those instructions.

The reason is simple: if it’s always the same, users only have to learn what that phrase or instruction is once. The, every time they see that phrase, they can skim it, knowing what it says.

Let’s imagine you have a multi-page form or wizard that users work through. At the bottom, you have links to move forward to later pages of the form, or back to previous pages. Maybe you also have an option that lets users save the form and come back to it later.

So let’s say I write the “next page” instruction as “Go to the next page, or click Save to come back and finish this later”. I’d then use that same phrase on every page of the form, in help content that explains how to complete the form, and so on.

Once the user’s seen that instruction one or twice, they won’t have to read it all to know what it says.

So consistency saves users time and frustration.

Consistent calls to action

Building on the previous point, if you need to include the same call to action over and over, use the same phrasing each time (provided the context allows that).

Let’s consider a very simple example: system emails. A client of mine has a suite of system emails for his product, and wanted to include in every one an invitation to users to contact support if they have questions.

Did we write that call to action ten different times, once for each email?

No. We made that information a consistent part of each email, by:

  • making it its own sentence, set apart from the rest of the text at the end of the email body, and
  • making the sentence construction, including links, identical each time it was used.

This way, users only need to read the sentence once to know that it gives them access to help. And they only need to spot it on the bottom of two emails to develop the expectation that, if they need help, they can look to the end of any email from my client’s business.

Consistency makes it easy for users to engage with your offering and business.

Counting the benefits of consist language

So consistency of language offers us three main benefits. It:

  1. helps users understand and predict your offering
  2. saves users time and frustration
  3. makes it easy for users to engage with your offering and business.

Incidentally, these are pretty much the same benefits that consistency of visuals and experience provide to users. Because, after all, on-screen language is visual (for most users), and is part of the user’s experience of your product or service.

How highly do you value consistency in your product or service? Tell us in the comments.