UX Best Practices: How to Write Error Messages

Use error messages to help the user complete the task successfully

Error messages happen. Whether your product team is comprised of one or a thousand, unexpected things will happen from time to time. It’s how you handle the unexpected that is important.

Prepare for what will inevitably go wrong and use error messages to help the user complete the task successfully and provide helpful information about how to prevent the issue from happening again.

  • Help users avoid errors in the first place. In addition to applying UX best practices, conduct usability studies to see where users get confused or misunderstand instructions. Allow users to “escape” situations they didn’t intend to get into and provide an autosave and undo/redo options to prevent lost work.

  • Don’t blame the user or make them feel stupid. Unless the circumstances around the error could have major consequences, don’t alarm the user with unnecessary terms like “critical error” or “illegal request.”

  • Provide a clear explanation about what happened. Use plain language and avoid unnecessary technical jargon. Don’t use unhelpful error codes.

  • Explain how to fix the problem. Again, use clear and succinct language.

  • Suggest a way to prevent the issue from happening again. Through user research like usability studies, you may know common reasons why users encounter this type of problem. Anticipate the problem and provide solutions.

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