Less Information for Better Microcopy

When someone pauses notifications in a popular messaging app this message appears:

[Name] has paused their notifications

This is clumsy UX writing. Using one person’s name and then referring to that person as “their” is jarring. English has a long history of using the singular they to refer to an unknown person, not a concrete person.

For example the natural use of singular they is:

When someone reads this, I hope they find it informative.

On the other hand, this sentence is artificial sounding:

When Sally reads this I hope they find it informative.

It doesn’t make any sense outside of the relatively rare context of Sally having expressed the wish to be referred to by the pronoun “they”. As a default it’s awkward, clunky and going to be the wrong pronoun in the vast majority of cases.

The easiest rewrite for the original bit of microcopy:

[Name] has paused notifications

Another option would be to tweak the layout a bit and have a tag right next to the person’s name with the text:

Notifications paused

The same principle can be used for my example sentence:

I hope Sally finds this informative.

This is the exact same meaning, but now I drop the pronoun altogether. This is a far safer approach, because using the wrong pronoun for Sally could end up being deeply offensive.

Or if you’d like to stay general:

I hope readers find this informative

The best way to manage complex UX writing is stripping out unnecessary information, such as pronouns. This will end being correct each time, because, logically speaking, a sentence without pronouns can never have the wrong pronoun.

The art of good UX writing is figuring out what information is necessary, how to cut out what’s unnecessary, sound natural, all while being easy to understand. Adding an artificial and unnecessary “they” in the middle of a sentence doesn’t do any of that.