The Professional Backgrounds of UX Writers and Content Designers

The Professional Backgrounds of UX Writers and Content Designers

Table of Contents

Ask ten UX writers/content designers what they did previously in their careers, and you may get ten different answers. Copywriter, journalist, technical writerโ€”sure, those are the obvious ones.

But we at the UX Writing Hub have always known that many other professional backgrounds are represented in the field.

So in our most recent salary survey, we asked UX writers and content designers specifically what they did before getting into the field.

In this quick article, weโ€™ll share the data, do some analysis, and look at the advantages of various professional backgrounds for career transitioners.

The professional backgrounds of UX writers/content designers

I wonโ€™t keep you in suspenseโ€”here are the numbers:

UX writing/content design career backgrounds pie chart

UX writer/content designer professional backgrounds

Percentage

Writing & editing

13%

Marketing & copywriting

11%

Communications & PR

10%

Education

7%

Misc. content roles

6%

Customer roles

6%

Content strategy

6%

Product management & analysis

6%

Designers & other UX

6%

Translation & localization

5%

Journalism

5%

Academia

2%

Community roles

2%

Creatives

2%

Fashion

2%

Graphic design

2%

Developers

2%

Law

1%

Other

8%

These stats are a mix of what weโ€™d expect to see, along with some surprises.ย 

For instance, writing, editing, marketing, and copywriting are the most popular backgrounds and, together with content strategy, make up 30% of responses. Itโ€™s not surprising that those are the top backgrounds, but the fact that 70% have a different background is unexpected.

Another surprise: 10% of UX writers/content designers worked in communications & PR.ย 

And if we look closer, we see that many UX writers/content designers donโ€™t have a writing-focused professional background at all.

Do you need a writing background in UX writing?

Letโ€™s dive deeper into those stats.ย 

Iโ€™d count the following as writing-focused backgrounds:

  • Writing & editing
  • Marketing & copywriting
  • Communications & PR
  • Misc. content roles
  • Content strategy
  • Translation & localization
  • Journalism

ย 

These make up about 55% of respondents. Then, we should include education too, since many respondents were specifically English or language teachers. That gets us to about 63%.

Iโ€™m tempted to put academics in there as well. I mean, they write a lotโ€”if you could call it writing. OKโ€”cheap shot. Academic writing might not be clear or concise, but weโ€™ll put them in the โ€œwritersโ€ category, which gets us to 64%.ย 

So who are the rest?ย 

There are a lot of product people. These are the PMs, UX/product designers, UX researchers, and other UXers. Together, they make up 11% of respondents. So writers plus product/UXers gets us to 75%.ย 

As for the remaining 25%, itโ€™s a wonderfully eclectic mix of backgrounds.ย 

Non-writing backgrounds of UX writers and content designers

To answer a question that we get asked a lot: no. You donโ€™t need a writing or UX background to work as a UX writer. It obviously helps, but backgrounds in customer service, community, graphic design, fashion, and law all made a showing in the survey results.ย 

Here are some other responses:

  • Art direction
  • Banking
  • Cultural projects manager and actress
  • HR
  • IT support
  • Nonprofit volunteer manager
  • Operations and finance director on a mayoral campaign
  • Photographer
  • Social work manager
  • Theatrical adviser
  • Line cook

ย 

Also, while running the UX Writing Academy, weโ€™ve worked with students who successfully made the transition from roles including:

  • Kindergarten teacher
  • College admissions consultant
  • Retail specialist
  • Architect
  • Esports commentator
  • Van life conversion design
  • Scuba diving instructor
  • Banjo-playing hobo (JKโ€”just keeping you on your toes)

ย 

And, most uncoincidentally, weโ€™re currently running a poll on LinkedIn to get more data. So far, some of the non-writer/non-UX results are:

  • Biology
  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Librarian
  • Industrial design
  • Quality analyst

ย 

The LinkedIn poll was phrased differently and gave people four choices: copywriter, technical writer, UX designer, and other (please comment). That might account for some discrepancies between the salary survey and LinkedIn poll results. A lot of LinkedIn respondents likely picked an option rather than going into detail. Hereโ€™s where it currently stands:

Poll stats from LinkedIn: copywriter 48%, technical writer 16%, UX designer 11%, other 25%

At the end of the day, the exact figures arenโ€™t important. Yes, most people in the field have strong writing backgrounds or UX experience. But even if you donโ€™t, you can still make a career switch to UX writing/content design like countless others have.ย 

Whatโ€™s the best background for UX writers and content designers?

Trick questionโ€”there is no single best background. But let’s examine a few to see what each brings to that proverbial product team table.

Writing & editing

Survey results included: technical writer, proofreader, knowledge base writer, proposal writer, scriptwriter, and more.ย 

Clearly, the wordsmiths have an advantage when it comes to general writing skills and making sure product copy is grammatically correct. They also benefit from editorial skills (make it shorter!) and typographical knowledge.ย 

Marketing & copywriting

Survey results included: copywriter,ย  marketing specialist or manager, social media coordinator, campaign manager, and more.ย 

Marketers and copywriters know the importance of understanding and appealing to a target audience. They also have experience creating fun, witty, attention-grabbing copy. Thatโ€™s not job #1 in UX, but itโ€™s occasionally beneficial.

Education

Survey results included: creator of educational test preparation material, English professor, teacher assistant, eLearning specialist, and more.

We hear from many teachers who are interested in UX writing, and they often fail to see just how relevant their experience is. Educators have a knack for avoiding the curse of knowledge, i.e. they recognize that others donโ€™t necessarily know what they know. This is crucial when guiding users through a complex interface.ย 

Combine that with patience and empathy, and itโ€™s no wonder teachers make for great UXers.

Journalism

Survey results included: journalist, chief editor, news publisher, and more.

Gratuitous factoid: โ€œjournalismโ€ comes from the french word โ€œjournal,โ€ which means โ€œnewspaper.โ€ Journalists know how to cut the fluff and keep it short and simpleโ€”just like in UX.ย 

Content roles

Survey results included: content analyst, content developer, content manager, content producer, content lead, content strategist, and more.

Ever get the feeling that you can just slap any olโ€™ word on after โ€œcontentโ€ and make a new tech role? Content synergist, content impresario, content transmogrifier. Where does it end?

Content roles are generally under marketing, so the same advantages typically apply (see above).ย 

transmogrifier written on a cardboard box
source: https://www.reddit.com/r/calvinandhobbes/comments/qf8r4w/transmogrifier_oc/

Academia

Survey results included: academic, academic researcher, grad student, and more.

There are plenty of former academics in UXโ€”and for good reason. Conducting, analyzing, and drawing actionable insights from research are something every UXer should be able to do. Just be sure to avoid copy like: โ€œIt is the opinion of the author of this interface that you should click here.โ€ย 

We are writers (and so can you!)

To sum up, most UX writers and content amalgamators designers have either a writing or UX/product backgroundโ€”but not all!ย 

And I for one think thatโ€™s great. People from diverse backgrounds can bring a fresh perspective to the role. The world needs writersโ€”both experienced ones and those eager to join the party.

So no matter what your current role is, thereโ€™s a good chance youโ€™re doing something that counts as relevant experience. Think about the advantages you bring to the table.

If youโ€™re interested in exploring the field, check out our free UX writing course.

UX writing/content design career transitions

Here are a few stories of others who made the switch:

More salary survey results:

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