A Walk Through the Jungle: How to Handle Legacy UI Text

This is a short Self-Help Article for an Information Developer to handle the 15924-line spreadsheet of legacy UI text (hereinafter the jungle) with the head up and the hands on. Here are the steps to follow in order to come safe and sound with minimum time wasted.

Search for help

Yes, that’s the first thing we would all do having been lost in the jungle – search for help. In our case, finding an SME (a domain expert in a respective area or topic) can make your jungle break quicker and easier. Consider consulting both dedicated and in-house SMEs in the following cases:

  • Audience and end user subtleties
  • Consistency and appropriateness of terminology
  • Availability of sphere-specific dictionaries
  • Details of SME review

Look for the experts in your team and go through the to-know list like this one:

  • Are there any UI text resources, e.g. Excel file or RESX file?

This is usually a file with all the text (labels, messages, etc.) used for the interface accompanied with the resource keys. The file is later added to the sources, and the interface text is updated with a magical sleight of hand called continuous integration.

  • Who can provide you with the actual text location on the interface if you are working only with the UI text resources?

Unfortunately, having access to the application and the UI text resources doesn’t always do the trick. You may get some idea of the control type you are dealing with if you have the keys, but the problem is that very often software developers don’t have a unified approach to writing keys. For example, they might use msg or txt to denote a message and, definitely, no indication of its type, e.g. an error or a warning message. So, having no action context can make us pretty defenseless.

  • What was the original language of the application?

You might have the text resources in several languages, and it might help you to come up with better options if you are aware of the source language. It might not be a native language of the UI text creator, but if it lived up to the day to be translated, it’s for sure played its role in the application success one time.

  • Are there any built-in localization forms?

A built-in localization form is a dialog box triggered by the combination of keys with the label text translated into several languages. It can give you the chance to provide the best-practice UI text for two reasons: you know the type of control you are labeling and you know its location on the interface.

Develop a strategy

Nothing makes your survival in the jungle more probable than a plan of actions designed to achieve an ultimate goal. And remember when dealing with “big data” no idea is a bad idea, especially when working according to sprint-based methodologies. The strategies may vary from using a Spell Checker or using CTRL+F to search for the TechComm-forbid words and CTRL+H to replace them or to limiting your scope to certain screens, workspaces, or workflows. I know how it feels when you have to kill a perfectionist inside of you and make some screens perfect while leaving the others wait for the better times, but success is usually a multiple-step ladder.

Follow the path, but don’t be afraid to ramble

Don’t edit the text blindfold making your strategy your commandments. Whenever you run into a stumbling block like irregular spelling, careless punctuation, or uncommon grammar usage – take measures. Here is when you can bring up the psychologist inside of you and assume that these are systematic or uninformed mistakes and seek for exact words.

Find the creator

There is no better way of finding the sources than finding the creator of the UI text. Judging from the density of the jungle, they have either resigned or retired. Well, find the disciples. And that’s where you should develop a strategy again. Don’t scare the hare!

  • Don’t text the person every time you have a question – make a list of questions.
  • Don’t turn up with accusation – come in with praise.
  • Don’t interrupt with suggestions – listen with curiosity.
  • Don’t boast of omniscience – prove with experience.
  • Don’t show self-satisfaction – express gratitude.

Shout out loud

What I actually mean is be verbally assertive. With a huge team of experts, such as business analysts, UI/UX designers, software developers, and QA engineers, you will just have to hold the ground and suggest the best possible options. Prove that your expertise goes far beyond regular writing and poke your nose in everything word-related.

Look for a survival kit

Being in the jungle can make your clear-thinking mind hazy and clouded, so try to restore a one-track mind back again and use tools that have been created to help you – consult best practices in the interface text writing, use the guidelines and your dedication to put them into practice.

And, eventually, when you get out don’t forget to share your experience. Turn your challenges into valuable lessons for the others.


One thought on “A Walk Through the Jungle: How to Handle Legacy UI Text

  1. To wade through those jungle waters and come out clean takes quite the nerve, and this article sounds like a real machete to the hand!

    One more thing I learned at my projects is: while both ‘Add’ and ‘Create’, ‘Submit’ and ‘OK’ are good names for a button, we should be the keepers of consistency and check that one and only one of these alternative terms is used in the same context.

    Let’s say the tool allows creating users and user groups. In this case, it would not do to have the buttons called ‘Add user’ and ‘Create user group’, right? To track UI names consistency in such parallel contexts, you can use short notes-to-self about the correspondence between action (context) and the UI name used.

    Liked by 2 people

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