UX copywriting series. Action vs. non-action in app onboarding

Our first impression is often made up by how we are greeted for the first time. In apps, the conventional ‘hello, nice to meet you’ is its onboarding. But like with all conventional things, this is something that we tend to rush through, or even skip entirely.

For example, by the time I downloaded the Dropbox app, I already had a good experience with the web version. I was impatient to start using the app and decided to ignore the onboarding. Come on, Dropbox. You know me, I know you. It’s official—I have an account, after all. Let’s just get to business.

However, when I downloaded a mobile app that was relatively new for me—Inbox by Google—I did pay attention to the onboarding. And I stumbled…

Ode to consistency

Inbox by Google onboarding is really great, but there is one thing about it that sets me off.

As an Information Developer, I am very much aware of the importance of consistency. Wait… that wasn’t nearly expressive enough. I’m going to go all caps on you, unfortunate readers, and proclaim it in all graveness—CONSISTENCY.

Consistency is when things occur in the same pattern.

In relation to the UI text, consistency could mean that you always (or never) have a colon in the field label. Or, that all hints have the same level of detail.

All in all, consistent UI text makes the app look reliable, professional, and smooth. Like George Clooney. 🙂

The difficult thing is that consistency has many aspects which put together, may be difficult to maintain. Your capitalization (title-style vs. sentence-style) should be consistent, and your punctuation should be consistent, and frankly—what shouldn’t?

So, for the sake of this article, we are going to narrow it down to consistency in writing. And then, narrow it down even more, to the onboarding text. In particular, we’re going to focus on action vs. non-action.


Let’s discuss the consistency of action vs. non-action in the Inbox by Google onboarding.

Action vs. non-action: case #1

The Inbox by Google onboarding starts strong, with a call to action. Do it. Add reminders.


The next screen continues the pattern and offers one more call to action. Feeling ready to jump on it and snooze away?


You know… if I could inbox, I would. But that’s no action.


‘Inbox highlights what you need to know’. That’s a full sentence that in contrast to preceding imperatives, is a non-action, and so breaks the pattern that was building up.

Let’s take a look at the last of the four screens.


It appears we have three actions vs. one non-action. And if this doesn’t bother you, think about George Clooney without a quarter of his beard!

My question for you is, how would you rephrase the odd one out? How to make it into action? Jump on it in the comments below! I dare you, @orysiagaba 😉


Action vs. non-action: case #2

Another quick test, now for all of you! Are the examples C and D below action or non-action?


Tricky, those ones, especially if you’re skimming through the text without reading into details.

‘Push’ reads like an action but in the case above, is a non-action.
‘Perfect’ reads like an adjective (‘this text is perfect’), but in this case, acts like action.

Your head spinning already? Don’t worry—mine sure does too.
If an onboarding is that tricky to figure out, what’s the app going to be like?

What I’m trying to say is, don’t play games with the minds of your readers. And by that I mean that at the beginning of a sentence, use only non-ambiguous words!

Let’s explore one more interesting case.

Action vs. non-action: case #3

All the examples above include feature description only. Now, the examples below, they consist of two parts—title and description.

How do you balance action vs. non-action in title and description?


The example on the left screams action at you (‘store’, ‘bring’, ‘get’). It sounds sort of pushy, maybe even intimidating. Noone likes being forced into action.

The example on the right is very non-obtrusive, mostly descriptive. But when you’re not prompted into any action, you stop relating to the information that you are reading.

So, best to stick to a combination of action and non-action. But how to do it in a consistent way?


That’s right: if you use action in titles, then descriptions should be non-action. And the other way around. Either works fine, as long as it’s what? Consistent. High-five!

Use the tips above to make your onboarding text follow a unified pattern. If you’ve done that and still feel on fire, you might as well take it further.

What’s next

After you’re done with onboarding, you might want to revisit the rest of app screens. Just remember—start small. Two key things there.


Example on the left—field labels within a screen. Keep them in the same style. For example, ‘Increase Contrast’ would do better as ‘Stronger Contrast’ (in style with the first field label—’Larger Text’). Same goes for ‘Reduce Motion’.

It’s hard to review the whole app at once, so start screen-by-screen. Think where people go first after onboarding—to main menu, settings, or maybe somewhere else?

Example on the right—screen labels. We got three screens: ‘Time’, ‘Request Pro’, and ‘How Often’. ‘Request Pro’ is an action here, and it’s double-confusing because ‘request’ could be either a verb (action) or a noun (non-action). In the example above, it’s an action, and it breaks the dominant non-action pattern.

Our brains are wired to seek patters. UI text is not the time to be all special and stand out. Be good, toe the proverbial UI line. Think of the big picture—let the user go through the whole flow smoothly.  ‘Time’, ‘Pro Request’, and ‘How Often’ might have achieved that.

Keep field labels consistent within a screen, and screen names consistent within a flow.

That’s it for now—time to go and practice!
Stuck with your UI text? Describe your case in a comment, and we’ll follow right up!

…almost forgot about the ‘Inbox highlights’ challenge (at the end of case #1, remember?). Give it a try!

4 thoughts on “UX copywriting series. Action vs. non-action in app onboarding

  1. I guess it would be something like “View the list of important facts that Inbox has created for you.” Once again we see how hard it is for writers to describe things from the user’s vantage point rather than in terms of the product’s features.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lesia Zasadna says:

      Yeah, absolutely. And it gets even harder when you have a space limit, so you have to be short. But short phrases are usually more general, as in ‘keep important stuff at hand’, which is so broad that it’s hardly informative.

      If you do provide specific information, that’s great because you go ahead and actually explain how exactly the app helps you keep stuff at hand.
      The only catch here is that you have to check for ambiguity.

      For example, ‘important facts’ may be misleading because ‘fact’ could mean anything, from world news to information trivia, but it’s actually emails. And to shorten the phrase, you could eliminate ‘the list of’, because at this point, the user doesnєt care if it’s list or tiles, right? Basically, what you need to tell them is that they will see important emails first.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Orysia Gaba says:

    Hmm… I’ve been considering the case for quite a while and it seems to me that it’s not that much about the list of important facts as about the emails. Inbox just highlights the most important info there so that you don’t have to open them. What do you think @nadiabiletska, @ireneboliubakh? How about wording the message like: “Learn what’s new without opening your emails – Inbox highlights all you need to know”? Or something even less wordy 🙂 ?


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