Heard about UX writing and wonder if it’s for you? This article explains what UX writing is, what UX writers do, and what to do if you’re interested in this new-ish and exciting field.
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The definition of UX writing
In one sentence, UX writing is the craft of researching, creating and testing content for digital products and services.
What do UX writers do?
Digital products are found in most industries, and job descriptions vary from company to company. If you work in a small company or startup, you may be wearing many hats and UX writing may be one of several content-related tasks in your job description. In a large corporation, your work will most likely be more streamlined, focusing on UX writing for one or a few specific products.
Still, there are a few things all UX writers have in common:
- Creating copy based on UX research and testing results, instead of relying on their own judgment
- Working closely with designers and developers to get an understanding of the whole user journey in a given flow or section
- Using words to solve user problems and meet business goals
You can read more about what UX writers get up to here.
Is UX writing the same as content design?
The term content design was coined by Sarah Winters (was Richards), who led the mammoth task of transforming the UK government website. Sarah then went on to found Content Design London and write the brilliant book Content Design.
So the roots of content design can be traced back to the strategy, content creation and publishing needed to make text-heavy websites like GOV.UK more user-friendly. This is quite different from the job of many UX writers, at least those who work with user flows in mobile apps and other digital interfaces.
For some time, local preferences for UX writing and content design was clearly geographical:
In the last year or two, something interesting has happened. Several large companies (for example Facebook, Shopify, and Dropbox) have changed the job title of their UX writers to content designers. Why? The reasons I’ve heard most often are to make it clear that UX writers should be part of the product design team. Content design also signals that the job is about so much more than writing. Valid points!
You can read more about content design here.
The titles UX writer and content designer are far from the only ones floating around for the same or similar jobs. It’s quite a mess. If you’re looking for a UX writing job, be sure to keep an eye open for content strategist, UX copywriter, product writer, UX content designer, and content editor jobs too (to mention a few).
The difference between UX writing and copywriting
Traditional copywriting is strongly associated with the work of advertising agencies. Ad copywriters produce adverts, brochures and sales letters using persuasive language to entice users to start using a product or buy a service.
The term copywriting is also used for other types of text production, like web content, marketing copy and blog writing.
The main difference between UX writing and copywriting is that the bulk of UX writing is done after a user has completed a purchase or signed up for a service or app. As a result, there is no need to try to sell something. Instead, the goal of the writer is to make sure it is easy and pleasant to use the product or service.
Another fundamental difference is that copywriting is usually long-form copy. UX writing on the other hand has a huge connection to microcopy (and what’s microcopy? Read all about it here).
Having said that, there is plenty of overlap between copywriting and UX writing. There is a lot of typical UX writing to be done before a purchase has been made (sign-up forms, for example). Another cross-over example is the copy needed to persuade people to upgrade from a free to a paid version.
The relation between UX writing and content strategy
Content strategy can be described as a plan for content creation. It describes what type of content you should create, why you should create it, who should create it, how it will be created, and where it should be published and distributed.
A good content strategy is based on clear business and user goals.
UX writing is closely related to content strategy because UX writers aim for the sweet spot where they help users reach their goals while keeping business goals on track. You could say that UX writing is a strategic kind of writing. Check out Torrey Podmajersky’s book Strategic writing for UX for lots of examples of UX writing in practice.
Who should do UX writing?
Who is best suited to become a UX writer? Writers who supplement their skillset with strategy and design tools, or designers who advance their writing skills?
I’d say either is in an excellent position to transfer to UX writing. And not just writers and designers – there are numerous examples of people from other disciplines who have entered the world of UX writing. Journalism, customer service, and even baking, to name a few.
The important thing is to appreciate that there is a lot to learn, even if you have experience from a related field.
A typical day as a UX writer
OK maybe there’s no such thing as a typical day for UX writers. As mentioned above, job descriptions and tasks vary from company to company and project to project. So let’s pick an example day when the UX writer didn’t write a single word:
You kick off the day with a team meeting to go through what everyone’s up to. The lead UX writer has received a report showing that 21% of all users drop out of the checkout process at the address screen in the checkout flow. She asks you to look into the flow and the copy and come up with an action plan for improving the numbers.
The first thing you do is to familiarize yourself with the flow and see if you spot any glaring issues. So you run through the process, deliberately entering the wrong information in all fields to generate error messages and taking notes as you go along.
You’ve spotted a few possible obstacles for users, but need to dig deeper. So you scan through the full report for information about the users who drop out but feel unsure about the numbers. Hmmm, best to have a chat with the analyst who generated the report. You set up a call with him later in the afternoon.
Time for lunch 🥙
The call with the analyst reveals that the biggest group of checkout flow dropouts lives in other countries. You suspect the issue is due to lack of information on how to complete the fields if the address contains diacritics or non-latin letters. One of the error messages you spotted earlier was the Yoda-like “Error with this field occurred”, without any other explanation. More detail for the user at this stage might help.
You slack customer services to see if they are aware of any problems. You also slack the developers to ask for all the relevant error strings.
While you’re waiting for a response, you start preparing your action plan. Your hypothesis is that explanatory copy will reduce the dropout rate. Running a usability test with a couple of people in the affected countries might be an option. This would give you their feedback both on the functionality and how the copy resonates with them.
Customer services get back to you to say that two Polish customers have written to them in the last two weeks, because they couldn’t complete a purchase. Seems that you’re definitely on to something here. Tomorrow you’ll find out how many other countries are affected. If the lead UX writer agrees with your action plan, you’ll then start drafting copy for the error messages and go ahead with the usability test.
FAQs: How to become a UX writer
Where can I get the skills needed to land a UX writing gig?
If you like to learn by taking courses, there are plenty to choose from. The first question is, should you do a UX design course or a UX writing course? Many people do both, but it really depends on the skills you want to achieve. If you are a UX designer already, you probably won’t need another design course but should rather go for a course with lots of UX writing assignments. What about writers? Again, it depends – just be aware that UX writing is very different from other types of writing. It could be a good idea to find a UX writing course with a strong element of design thinking and design practices.
But do I have to take a course?
No, you don’t. You can still develop your UX writing skills through self-study or by creating a portfolio that you can use to apply for jobs. If you have the self-discipline and motivation, you’ll find all the information and resources you need online.
OK but can’t I just learn on the job?
Well, sure, there may be companies that are happy for you to learn as you go along. Look out for internships and junior positions! Oh and seek out UX writing opportunities in your current company and have a word with your manager.
And how do I create a portfolio without experience?
We all use digital products every single day. Next time you bang your head on the keyboard because an app frustrates you, take screenshots! Build a case study around the problem and explain your proposed solution. Create alternative screens in a design tool like Figma and publish your case study online for future employers. Need portfolio inspiration? We have collected some tips and best practice examples in our blog post The ultimate UX portfolio resource.
Any other tips?
Yes! Join online communities (the very lively Facebook group Microcopy and UX writing is the biggest social media group for new, experienced, and future UX writers), go to online events and conferences, take part in local meetups, look into getting a mentor or UX writing buddy, read books. Connect with UX writers and content designers on LinkedIn.
The more you learn, the more fun you’ll have 🙂
Phew, OK! So where do I start?
A great way to find out if UX writing is for you is to take our free course A Taste of UX Writing. Enjoy!