Why You Should Explain Why to Your Users

Written by Craig Morrison - Get free updates on new posts here.

When I was about 10 years old, I loved having my friends sleep over.

We’d stay up all night in the living room playing Sega, laughing, and watching terrible infomercials.

We’d drink every bit of pop in the house, spill it everywhere, make a giant mess, and get in huge trouble the next day.

It was awesome.

If it were up to me, my friends would have slept over every night.

But it wasn’t up to me, and more often than not, when I asked if my friends could spend the night, the response I got from my Mom was usually just…


“Why not?”

I’d respond, to which my mother would not give an explanation, instead just a “not tonight” or “because I said no”.

10 year old Craig’s brain did not like this. If there was a reason he was being denied an entire night of fun, he wanted to know WHY.

Why? Why can’t I have fun all night? Why are you denying me this? What possible reason could you have?? What is wrong with you? Why do you hate me? Fine I’ll just throw a fit and be awful to you for the next 24 hours.

Yes. I was that kid.

Now that I’m older I completely understand the reason, but back then I couldn’t handle not being given an explanation. It felt as if my Mom was doing it simply to punish me.

If she had explained the reason (life is exhausting and the weekend is the only time to regain enough sanity to do it all over the next week…) I would have understood. I would have accepted it, and moved past it (maybe).

So why am I telling you this bizarre story?

Because in this story, my Mother is your product, and 10 year old Craig is your users.

Your users want things from your product, and you want things from them… but it isn’t always that easy.

Sometimes what you’re asking for feels like too much to them…

Sometimes what they’re asking for is not possible for you to provide at the moment…

Either way, both of these situations can be extremely frustrating. And as I always preach, frustrations lead to poor user experiences, which in turn lead to the mass exodus of a majority of users.

But there is hope! Frustrations like these can be avoided simply by explaining the reason why.

The onboard process of a new user is one area where explaining why is vital to avoiding frustrations.

When a new user signs up for your product, they are going through a process of “feeling out” what you’re providing.

They aren’t quite sold yet, but they’re interested enough to give it a whirl.

Upsetting them at this stage can cost you a new user, and at this stage, it’s very easy to do.

The most common way things go wrong during onboarding is by asking for too much information from the user.

Most people are used to forking over the usual info, but if you start asking for things like age and gender, that same question is going to pop into their heads…

“Why do they need my gender?”

Without an explanation as to why providing a gender is going to benefit them, then this can easily be the turning point that sends these people to the big x in the corner.

A quick, simple explanation under the question is all you need.

For example, take a look at the way Pinterest handles this situation…


They’ve used an expandable tooltip to provide a short explanation as to why providing your gender is going to make your experience better.

Now that the user understands the extra information is meant to benefit them, it suddenly doesn’t seem like they are providing more than necessary.

Twitter asks for your phone number during sign up, which may seem like a very big ask…


But they do a great job of justifying it by once again putting the benefit back on the user.

By giving your phone number, you’ll make your account more secure and will make logging in easier.

On the flip side, sometimes you can’t always provide users what they’re looking for, and without an explanation, this can make some of them angry.

Even with extensive onboarding and help documents, a large part of how people learn to use your product is through trial and error.

Eventually, a user is going to get lost, get stuck, or want to do something that either:

  1. Results in an error
  2. Goes beyond what your product currently offers

In other words… your user is going to ask for something from your product, and your product is going to say “No”.

And just like 10 year old Craig, hearing no without an explanation makes them frustrated.

Will they throw a fit a act like a total dick for the rest of the day?

Probably not.

But instead they might get frustrated to the point of abandoning you and your brand for a close competitor.

One of the biggest offenders? The generic “error” message.


This is probably the most frustrating thing to see. Your user tries to do something, it doesn’t work, and their met with just the simple phrase…


On top of the frustration of just not being able to do what they wanted, the user is faced with the question… who made the error?

Was it me? Was it the system? What have I done? I hate this crazy time machine app.

The way to avoid this frustration is simple. Explain why the error happened, and give the user an action to take which will remove any thoughts of “what do I do next?” from their mind.

As I mentioned, it’s not always an error that requires an explanation of why there is a limitation to what their trying to do.

For example, let’s say your product is a dating app and you ask the user to upload some images.

This particular user is feeling extra photogenic today so they attempt to add 50 images of themselves all posing in front of the same dirty closet mirror.

You’ve determined through extensive user research that profiles with a maximum of 6 images get the most engagement, so you’ve decided to limit the amount of images a user can add to 6.

You could easily throw up a message that says…

“You have reached the maximum amount of images.”

But this might trigger that same question in the users mind…

“Why do I only get 6? What is this bullshit? I need to show the world my selfies!”

Instead, a message that explains why 6 is the maximum would put the benefit back on the reader and make them more willing to accept it.

For example…

“Looks like you’re trying to add more than 6 pictures! Turn out profiles with 6 images or less get the most action, so we’ve limited images to make sure everyone gets the attention they deserve!”

Who could say no to more dating action?

In conclusion…

The lesson here is pretty clear. When speaking to your users, be sure you’re always giving them enough detail to justify your actions, especially when asking them for something, and if you’re telling them “No” in one way or another.

Every time you write an error message, or type of product communication to the user, always ask yourself… Why? Then inculde that reason in the message.

Keep your messages short, simple, and in plain language, but with enough information to satisfy the 10 year old Craig’s in your userbase.

This type of user communication is just one of many ways of creating the best experience for your users, which leads to a more engaged userbase, a lower churn rate, and a higher word of mouth growth rate.

If you want to go into more detail on improving your product’s UX, take my free email course 5 Week’s to a Better User Experience. It’s free. Plus it’s free so that’s great.

It’s also free.

Sign up now. (it’s free).