Writing for Windows Live Tiles: Strings Like Headlines

Previously in this series, I discussed several factors to keep in mind when writing copy for Windows Start Screen Live Tiles, such as constructing lines that are short, yet meaningful; being conscientious of the relationship between text and visuals; and what makes a written word readable.

I’d like to conclude by discussing best practices for single strings of text, which typically run 8-12 words, depending on the exact type of tile. A string can borrow much from the way headlines have been written in print. Considering the space usually afforded articles in print, 12 words is considered a bounty.

Basic rules for Live Tile strings

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1. Have a clear subject and verb, and convey who is doing what in the active voice.

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Correct (active voice)

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Jen liked your photo.

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Incorrect (passive voice)

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One photo was liked.

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Most of the time, a clear sentence will include an object—what’s being acted upon—the photo in this case. There are times, however, when the object will not be needed, as in the case of a scheduler app.

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Examples

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Jen confirmed.

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Jack rescheduled.

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2. Use normal sentence casing, not traditional title casing that calls for all initial letters to be capitalized (except for minor words—articles, prepositions, and conjunctions).

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Correct

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Congress reconvenes after holiday.

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Incorrect

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Representatives Don’t Like Bill.

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Normal sentence casing in strings used for notifications and headline news will help distinguish proper names from common references. You probably noticed that the incorrect example could mean legislative representatives doesn’t like a bill that’s been introduced, or that someone named Bill doesn’t hold the representatives’ favor. Reserving capitalization for proper names would clear that up.

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3. Use contractions to conserve space, but avoid noun-verb contractions, as they sometimes look like possessives.

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Example

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Teenager’s In Love

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Copy editor Pam Nelson cited that example from Parade magazine in a 2010 entry to her Triangle Grammar Guide blog (now located at grammarguide.copydesk.org).

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4. Be direct, not coy, especially if your tile scrolls through multiple categories of content. Rotating text doesn’t always give the reader enough time to decipher puns, or even guess the meaning behind colloquialisms. Euphemisms are another trap; usually shorter, accurate words can take their place.

Tied in tandem with icons

Text in a Live Tile benefits from one element not found in traditional headlines: an icon. In a way, this takes a portion of the pressure off the string, which no longer has sole responsibility for conveying all information about the update. Icons can be used to indicate categories of content so the string doesn’t have to.

For example, instead of writing, “Sunrise at 7 a.m.” an icon of the sun peeking over a cloud with the string “7 a.m.” will suffice. Look to use visual shortcuts where you can in Live Tiles. Doing so will also make updates easier to digest at a glance.

Write, chill, revise

Usually you will not find the most efficient way to say something on your first try. Write the copy once, rearrange and swap words, and then if time allows, set it aside. Visit it later when you have less of a writer’s perspective and more of reader’s eye. Sometimes concise articulation is a balance between time, meditation, and revision.

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