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What bad tweets can teach us about UX

Tweets are great. They come in all shapes and sizes. Okay, maybe be not shapes. But they ARE great. Tweets can make you drink bleach, or cause your stock to plummet to the ground. But the tweet I’m talking about didn’t come from Donald Trump or Elon Musk, it came from a fellow Sri Lankan politician.

screenshot of the tweet by sajith premadasa

Before going any further, let’s look at the tweet itself:

Just a little background.

Sajith Premadasa is a member of the Sri Lankan parliament (now former, since the parliament was recently dissolved) and the leader of the opposition. He recently ran for president of Sri Lanka but suffered a landslide loss to current president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Just to clarify, it wasn’t due to his bad tweets.

And we’re back.

You can notice that it’s written in very formal English. At first glance, you might even get the gist of what he’s talking about. It’s something about how racism in society is increasing the social division amongst the people and its effects on the country.

Wholeheartedly agree with his values. And I’m sure most people do. And it’s not his English knowledge or intelligence that people are ridiculing. It would be wrong to do that.

But why do his tweets cause so much controversy? What’s wrong with them?

He’s just using formal English, what’s wrong with it?

Alright, first of all, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not very smart. What's not smart is the type of English he uses. He’s addressing the general public here. How much of the Sri Lankan public, who’s first language isn’t English, could have understood what he meant by it at first glance?

The first glances are important. If people have to read a message several times to understand what it means, they’re less likely to act on the guidance in the message.

The World Health Organization, for example, has entire documentation about how to use plain language to make your communications understandable.

Writing in plain English is so important that the United States even passed it into law (yes, really). The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires that every federal executive agency use plain English in every covered document the agency issues.

When you’re a politician, you work for the general public. Most of the time, you’d be addressing the general public. And to take something out of Sajith’s Twitter bio, you are the “voice of the voiceless”.

So what does this tweet teach us about user experience?

Know your audience

Knowing who your audience is crucial when deciding what voice and tone to use with your communication.

The demographics, their level of education, cultural background, and many other factors needs to be considered when you write copy.

The voice and tone you use with a professional audience would not work within a product for a young and informal audience.

You should first consider what your audience plans to gain from listening to what you’re about to say. You must tailor your copy to match those needs.

Clear and concise over smart or witty

I know its tempting to add humor, that occasional pun, or in this case big English words to sound smart. But we should never do that at the expense of our message.

Replace your big complicated words with simple, plain ones that can still convey your message well. You don’t have to make it too long either. It should be brief but comprehensive.

These big words throw the user off. They are distractions. When you don’t get the first few lines, you will abandon the thing altogether.

Use conversational tone

Conversational tone is the kind of tone you use when you’re talking to another person. This is the opposite of formal, written English.

Mailchimp in their famous Voice and Tone Guidelines, emphasizes how they use conversational and active voice in their copy.

Conversational language is easier to understand and more engaging.

Now time for some context…

I saw several people comparing the tweets to some other world leaders and I couldn’t help but notice it myself. They are a lot more clear and concise and obviously perform better. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

As you can see, plain language can make a huge difference.

I never thought I’d take a tweet by one of our parliament ministers as a case study to explain the basics of UX Writing, but I thought of putting my two cents on the matter after seeing all the debates online about the issue.

You don’t get a strong reaction from people for no reason. They aren’t ridiculing him for having a big vocabulary or his intelligence. That wouldn’t just be wrong, that would be illogical.

It’s about learning from your mistakes and coming back stronger than ever. If Logan Paul can do it, so can Sajith.

What bad tweets can teach us about UX was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.