A Quick Guide to UX Writing

“I don’t get this and I never will!”

Just about everyone has felt this way at some point when attempting to understand something new. Whether it’s furniture assembly instructions posted on a website or a guide to using a new software package, the difference between a satisfied user and a frustrated one can boil down to one thing: words. This is why tech companies are now employing the talents of UX writers. The field is growing faster than average.

UX writers help create a great customer experience through the written word. The following guide is designed to help writers add UX writing to their skill set, and to help other professionals understand how writing plays a role in overall UX.

Understanding UX Writing

First, there are a lot of similarities between copywriting and UX writing. Both are jobs intended to make a product easier to understand and more desirable to users. The difference is that the job of copywriting is traditionally done after the design phase.

For example, a web design team may create the layouts and functionality for a new web page. They then send screenshots or mock-ups to the marketing department complete with ‘Lorem Ipsum’ space holders. Then, copywriters are given the task of filling that space up with instructions, information, or calls to action.

The problem with this approach is that everything the user sees on that webpage was created by the coordinated efforts of the web design team. The only exception is the words that appear on that page. As a result, the written content may not be as clear as it could be.

With UX writing, content creators are an integral part of the design team whether that’s for an app, software package, website, or online content. Any copywriter knows how frustrating it can be to communicate something to an audience while being constrained by both inches and word count. While the UX writer still faces constraints, the situation is greatly improved when content is prioritized during the design process.

For tech companies, this is the best of both worlds. Content is maximized for user experience. In addition to this, those creating it also have an understanding of communicating branding.

Which Companies Hire UX Writers?

Tech companies such as Spotify, Google, Amazon, Wix, and others have UX writers on staff. Major retailers such as CVS, Nordstrom, and Honeywell do as well. Those are just a few examples of some of the major players who have or are adding these positions. Essentially, any organization that uses on-screen text to communicate with users can benefit from the talents of a UX writer.

What Does a UX Writer Do?

UX writers are sometimes referred to as microcopy writers. They write the text that users see as they are navigating their way through apps, websites, devices, and software. They provide the content for error messages, on-screen help text, pull down menu content, and more. In some companies, this is an entirely different position from web copywriting. In others, they are one in the same.

UX writers contribute to a better experience by making things clear and intuitive. They must also communicate effectively while also keeping branding in mind.

Necessary Skills For a UX Writer 

Not all writers can succeed at UX writing. They must have the ability to be concise. Even when content is part of the design process, there is always a limitation in what can be fit onto a computer screen. Space becomes even more limited on phones and IOT devices.

It’s also important to be able to communicate diplomatically. In many cases, a UX writer is creating simple explanations and error message text, for example. They must be able to do that without coming across as patronizing or confusing and frustrating the customer more. At the same time, they must also maintain brand voice.

UX writers must also be careful not to be intrusive. Not everything the customer sees on the screen requires extra help or explanation. For example, hover help is great when something could be confusing. On the other hand, it’s intrusive when it isn’t needed.

Understanding And Thinking Like a User

Just like copywriters must rely on customer personas to communicate effectively, so must UX writers. This means looking at screens, putting themselves in the role of the user, and understand what they are trying to accomplish. A good UX designer will recognize points of potential friction and frustration. They can also recognize opportunities to offer extra information, even push someone a bit further down the sales funnel.

Helpful Technical Skills

Because UX writers often work with design teams during the development process, there are some skills that can be helpful to them. These include:

  • Developing familiarity with agile and other development methodologies
  • Using collaborative tools such as Google Docs
  • Learning the UX design process
  • Using A/B testing software
  • Using Videoconferencing software
  • Learning prototyping tools
  • Use of project management and collaboration tools such as Trello
  • Learning to recognize brand voice and to apply branding to microcopy

While there is no degree specifically for UX writing, many employers require a degree in English or technical writing. However, there are plenty of job opportunities that are more flexible. In large part, this is a career where you must build your own skill set. Successful UX writers have skills that can be learned in a combination of classes such as:

  • Web Design
  • Marketing
  • Digital Marketing
  • Content Planning And Management
  • Brand And Product Development
  • Technical Writing
  • Project Management
  • Data Analytics

Helpful Soft Skills

First and foremost, UX writers should work well in teams. They spend a lot of time in meetings and collaborative sessions. It helps to be articulate. They should be able to explain ideas and understand how their goals work in concert with those of others. It is also helpful to be naturally curious. While a UX writer does not need to understand technology at the coding level, they should be willing able to learn basic concepts.

Getting Started

Becoming a UX writer and applying those skills begins with developing or adapting the right skillset. Those who already work in writing or software design are already ahead of the game. The next step is to look at examples of UX. Websites that are easy to navigate or apps that users adapt to quickly are usually that way because they offer great UX. UX writers can learn by paying attention to the ways in which written content contributes to that experience.


About the Author

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Leona Henryson is a freelance writer and UX designer at Essay Supply. Also, she is a contributing writer for various blogs. When she is not writing or designing, she is swimming, hiking, and, weather permitting, snowboarding.