Overview

Microsoft Surface applications should use casual, comfortable, clear, concise, direct, and personal language that complements natural designs and interactions. When you write text for Surface applications, carefully consider the tone, voice, and word choice.

The following guidelines provide practical ways to embody the language and textual principles discussed above.

Treat these guidelines as recommendations only. The Microsoft Surface application certification program has no requirements for textual characteristics.


1. Using a Casual and Comfortable Tone

Casual language is familiar, informal, conversational, natural, colloquial, and sometimes idiomatic. Use casual and comfortable language in Microsoft Surface applications, but avoid overly colloquial or idiomatic language that fails to add clarity and increases localization costs.

Users quickly and easily accept comfortable language and it evokes positive emotions. It can help calm users and decrease any tension they might feel. Comfortable language tells users that Surface is easy to use.

Examples of a Casual and Comfortable Tone

Should

Use informal language, like you are speaking with a friend:

  • Good: I’m done

  • Bad: I’m outta here

  • Good: We can’t open Photos

  • Bad: The Photos application has failed to launch

Do not use overly casual language or slang, colloquialisms, or idiomatic phrases that users might not recognize. Carefully select casual words.

  • Good: I’m just a table right now

    Check back later

  • Bad: Out of order – The table has experienced a minor malfunction

  • Good: The playlist is full

  • Bad: The playlist is maxed out

Do not apologize. It is hard to maintain a valuable brand and a comfortable experience if Surface text blames itself and looks like an unreliable system. If you feel you must be more conciliatory, use “unfortunately” instead of “sorry.”

  • Good: The video can’t play

  • Bad: I’m sorry, but we can’t play this video

  • Good: Unfortunately, we can’t read your memory card

  • Bad: We’re sorry but we can’t read your memory card

Avoid using single words as commands to the user. Single-command words appear impersonal and computer-like. You would probably not speak that way to a friend. Try not to use a single word on a command control, like a button. (You can use single words if you have space constraints in the user interface.)

  • Good: Remove my music

  • Bad: Clear

  • Good: I’m done

  • Bad: Reset

Avoid using punctuation with interface text whenever you can. Only use punctuation when you write multiple sentences for a description, or when you use a hyphen, dash, or apostrophe in casual prose.

  • Good: Start a new experience

  • Bad: Start a new experience!

  • Good: Add songs to the playlist

  • Bad: Add songs to the playlist…

  • Good: Plan A includes 5,000 hours with 400 Anywhere Minutes. Calls are free on weekends and after 7PM on weekday nights. Calls to your Favorite Friends are also free.

  • Good: Photos—Explore your memories

  • Good: We’re closing everything and starting a new experience

Use capitalization judiciously. Use an initial capital with sentences and phrases. Capitalize brand names. Only capitalize each word in a phrase when the phrase is an important title or label. Never use all capitals or all small capitals.

  • Good: Continue my activity

  • Bad: Continue My Activity

  • Good: Remove a song to add a new one

  • Bad: Remove a Song to Add a New One

  • Good: Hotels & Motels (subcategory in Concierge)

  • Good: Remove my photos

  • Bad: REMOVE MY PHOTOS

 

2. Using Clear and Concise Language

Clear language helps users understand meaning quickly and easily, and concise language focuses on the core message in as few words as possible. Remember that users typically encounter Microsoft Surface units in commercial environments when they have little dwell time.

You might face some challenges as you try to balance clarity and concision. More words could help clarify meaning, but it makes the information less concise. Likewise, fewer words could improve concision, but it might obscure meaning. You must satisfy both principles with all Surface text and voice audio.

Examples of Clear and Concise Language

Should

When appropriate, say what the user would say. For example, if the text is a button or interaction, write exactly what the user wants to say, and say it the way that the user would say it.

  • Good: Remove my photos

  • Bad: Delete Files

  • Good: Continue what I was doing

  • Bad: Go back

Do not assume that the user knows what you’re talking about. Give enough details to make the meaning explicit. And be specific rather than general.

  • Good: Your songs have been removed from the playlist

  • Bad: Songs deleted

  • Good: View my photos

  • Bad: Upload all files on device

  • Good: We had to close Photos

  • Bad: The application closed unexpectedly

Use as few words as possible.

  • Good: Close everything

  • Bad: Remove my files, close the applications, and return to the Attract Mode

  • Good: Unfortunately, we can’t read your memory card

  • Bad: We’re sorry but we can’t read your memory card
   
   

3. Using Text to Add Clarity to the Interaction Design

While good design will help users understand what they can touch and do, in some cases you need to use text to ensure clear interaction design.

Examples of Text to Add Clarity

Should

Add text to the interaction design to inform the user what to do.

  • Good: Use the keyboard to start a new search

  • Good: Drag songs from the albums to the playlist

Tell the users that they’ve completed an interaction when they might be confused or might not understand what a gesture or action accomplished. Do not add clarifying text when they complete a gesture or action., Instead, try to limit the use of text to instances where the Microsoft Surface application prompts users to complete a gesture (like in a game) or cases where the interaction may confuse users.

  • Good: We printed your directions

  • Good: This song has been added to the playlist

If your application retains users’ information, such as credit card numbers, users could be exposed to malicious attacks. If your application removes users' information, users want to know, so acknowledge that the application removed their personal information.

  • Good: Permanently remove all my personal information

  • Good: We permanently removed all your personal information
     
    

4. Using a Direct and Personal Approach

Direct personal language simulates a conversation rather than just listing commands and information. Without compromising clarity and comfort, text in a Microsoft Surface application should establish a connection with the users by interacting with them in a personal way that you would expect to see in an e-mail message but not in an interface.

Examples of a Direct and Personal Approach

Should

Whenever possible, write from the user’s perspective.

Do not speak to users when they are making decisions. Allow the users to speak for themselves. When a user chooses an option, speak from the user’s perspective by using “my.”

When the user provides input to the Surface application, speak from the user’s perspective by using “I.”

  • Good: Remove my photos

  • Bad: Delete your photos

  • Good: I’m not done yet

  • Bad: Are you done yet?

  • Good: I changed my mind

  • Bad: Cancel

When absolutely necessary, speak from the Surface unit’s perspective and use the term “we.” Make sure to follow this guideline if a user has to wait, if an error occurs, or if the user needs to receive a specific message.

  • Good: We’re closing everything and starting a new experience

  • Bad: The Microsoft Surface unit is closing everything and starting a new experience

  • Good: We can read only one memory card at a time

  • Bad: The Photos application can read only one memory card at a time

  • Good: We are removing your photos

  • Bad: All photos are being removed from Microsoft Surface

Do not give Surface a “personality.” Unless you are developing an application for children, do not turn Surface into a specific person with a personality.

  • Good: We are ready to begin

  • Bad: I’m glad to see you again. Touch anywhere to begin.

Try to avoid asking questions or giving information and then offering choices. Instead of asking users what they want to do, provide a direct experience by assigning the users’ options to the interface. When users see a button with a clear purpose, they do not have to try to interpret its meaning or function.

  • Good: Close everything

  • Bad: Are you done?

    [Yes] [No]

  • Good: I’d like to continue

    I’d rather go back

  • Bad: What would you like to do?

    [Continue] [Go back]
    
  

5. Avoiding Computer-Based Terminology

Avoid any language or language styles that are common to computers and that you would not likely hear in everyday language. Computer-based terminology reminds users of the rigid, impersonal, and overly formal language that they associate with computers. Use everyday terminology to describe specific actions or activities in Microsoft Surface applications.

Do not use Examples

application

”application” might be the best word to describe a generic piece of software, but you can avoid it by referring to the name of the application or to the user’s Surface experience.

  • Good: Close Photos

  • Bad: Exit the application

  • Good: Start a new experience

  • Bad: Close all applications

attach

In everyday conversation, people do not say, “Attach this paper to the envelope you’re sending.” Instead, they say, “Could you put this paper in the envelope?” Instead of "attach," use “add,” “include,” or a phrase like “put this in,” or “stick this on.”

  • Good: Include my photos

  • Bad: Attach all files

cancel

People do not say, “Cancel what you’re doing.” Instead, they say, “Could you stop for a moment and come here, please?” Instead of using "cancel," speak directly to the purpose.

  • Good: Remove my photos

    I’m not done with my photos

  • Bad: Delete all files

    [OK] [Cancel]

  • Good: I’d like to continue

    I’d rather go back

  • Bad: What would you like to do?

    [Continue] [Go back]

click

Because Surface interactions do not require a mouse, users have nothing to “click” or “double-click.” Use “tap” instead.

  • Good: Tap the button

  • Bad: Click the button

confirm

“Confirm” is almost exclusively used in formal transactions and rarely in everyday conversation. People do not use “confirm” when they need to verify information.

  • Good: Remove my music

  • Bad: Your files will be deleted

    [Confirm] [Cancel]

data

In conversation, people say, “Tell me about that,” or “I’d like some more information.” They do not request data. Instead of "data," use “information.”

  • Good: See below for more information

  • Data required

delete

People rarely use “delete” in conversation. Instead, they say “remove,” “get rid of,” and so on.

  • Good: Clear the playlist

  • Bad: Delete all songs

drag

While people do use “drag” in daily conversation, it has computer-based connotations. Instead of “drag,” use a term that describes a dragging motion, like “slide.”

  • Good: Slide the photo over here

  • Bad: Drag the photo over here

exit

“Exit” is generally reserved for formal and official contexts. People do not say, “Exit the room when you’re done.” Instead, they say “Leave the room,” or “Go to the waiting room when you’re done.”

When a Surface application provides a control command, use “I’m done.”

When the term is in a sentence, use “close.”

When the term is used to tell someone to leave, use “go,” if possible.

  • Good: I’m done

  • Bad: Exit

  • Good: Close Concierge

  • Bad: Exit Concierge

  • Good: Please go back to Launcher

  • Bad: Exit to Launcher

failure

fail

“Failure” has ominous connotations. In conversation, people do not say, “There’s a failure in the car,” but rather, “There’s a problem with the car.” Use a word like “problem” rather than “failure.” Use “can’t,” “won’t,” and similar words rather than “fail.”

  • Good: Unfortunately, we found a problem

  • Bad: Application failure occurred

  • Good: Photos wasn’t able to open

  • Bad: Application failed to load

file

Rather than the ubiquitous term “file,” refer to the specific type of media or data (photos, music, videos, postcards, pages, and so on).

  • Good: Remove all my photos

  • Bad: Remove all my files

load

Nobody would say, “Load your food into the bowl.” Instead, they would say something like, “Serve yourself,” or “Help yourself.” You’re also more likely to hear, “Add paper to the copier,” rather than “Load paper into the copier.” Instead of using "load," use terms like “collect,” “add,” “open,” “search,” or “find.”

  • Good: We’re opening your profile

  • Bad: We’re loading your profile

OK

“OK” is common in everyday vernacular. But in the world of computer software, people often recognize it as part of an agree/disagree option pair. In Surface applications, therefore, avoid “OK” and speak directly to the purpose. (You can use “OK” or “okay” in a sentence if it aligns with the other interface language principles.)

  • Good: Remove my information

    I’m not done yet

  • Bad: We are about to remove all your information

    [OK] [Cancel]

press-and-hold

Avoid "press-and-hold.” Instead, use “tap-and-hold,” or “touch-and-hold.”

  • Good: Touch-and-hold the photo to move it

  • Bad: Press-and-hold the photo to move it

reboot

In conversation, “reboot” is used almost exclusively with computers and complex mechanical equipment. Instead of using "reboot," use “restart.”

  • Good: Restart the game

  • Bad: Would you like to reboot the game?

session

“Session” often refers to formal periods or durations. You’ll rarely hear, “Are you ending your basketball session?” Instead, people say, “Are you done playing basketball?”

When the term is a command, use “done” instead of "session."

When the term is in a sentence, use “experience” instead of "session.”

  • Good: I’m done

  • Bad: End session

  • Good: Start a new experience

  • Bad: Start a new session