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 alone
- 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.
Skills UX writers need
The first thing that springs to mind is, doh, writing skills. But it’s vital to be aware that one thing that makes UX writing different from traditional writing gigs is all that other stuff. Things like:
UX writing is a kind of strategic writing. What does that mean? Well, instead of working with words on the surface — writing or revising a whole product from start to finish — UX writers are often tasked to identify and solve specific user challenges.
You will often tackle one user flow at a time. Using insights from UX research, analytics, and a style guide, you will figure out how words can help the users move forward and complete tasks.
UX research and testing
UX writing done right is research-based, data-driven and open to testing and user feedback. New insights will give you new tasks to complete and user challenges to solve.
Many large companies have separate UX research departments. In that case, you probably won’t carry out the research or create the statistics yourself. But you need to be familiar with common research methods so that you know what to do with the material. Plus if you are aware of UX research, you can suggest research needed to the relevant department.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with research methods that are unique for UX writing, such as conversation mining and cloze tests. Read more about these and other testing methods in the article UX research for beginners. Another great resource if you’re new to the game is this podcast with UX researcher Natalya Sarana.
UX research is a lot of fun and will transform how you view writing forever, so it’s definitely worth the effort.
UX writers and content designers belong in the design department. This means that you will take part in daily or weekly standups, workshops, brainstorms and you name it. If you’re used to polishing your copy to perfection in a quiet corner, sending it off to your client, and moving on to the next writing task, it’s best to brace yourself for something quite different.
Design thinking is an iterative process where early and regular feedback is as common as pierogi in Poland. Get used to getting opinions of your work long before you’ve had a chance to finalize it–and be thankful for the input. Remember that your best critics are not necessarily other writers but people who are going to read your copy.
You’re going to need at least basic competence with common design tools like Figma. Definitely learn how to navigate in Figma. It might not be the most intuitive tool to start with if you’re new to design. The good news is that it’s enough to start with the absolute basics. You’ll be working *with* designers, not replacing them. There may be a few brain balls out there who are just as good with copy as they are with design, but in the vast majority of cases, this is not required.
AI-driven language tools
Recent developments within AI have both amazed and horrified our industry (I’m updating this article in March 2023). OpenAI’s ChatGTP has taken generative AI to new impressive levels. ChatGPT pumps out natural-sounding language at a speed no human can compete with. What’s a UX writer to do?
One thing’s for sure: How UX writers work is going to change. Our best chance to stay relevant is to stay on top of it all. Understand the potential and limitations of these tools so that you can use them to power up your own writing.
The new tools may be fast, but speed is far from everything a writer needs. One thing AI tools lack is context. You can ask them to write almost anything, but they are blissfully unaware of your company, your product, your goals, your users, your users’ pain points and needs, and your style guide. They haven’t been part of any discussions and they haven’t seen your user research or testing results. This is why they can be helpful to generate ideas or provide a first, rough draft of copy – but the output has to be checked, edited and approved.
So instead of panicking about technological advancement, explore the new tools that make you a faster and better UX writer. Two examples are Writer and Wordtune. One smart way to use Writer is to feed it the company style guide. This way, both writers and non-writers in a company can be prompted for style guide recommendations directly on the screen. In other words, it eliminates the need for locating and searching the style guide. Grammarly Business has a similar function. And things are moving fast — as of the time of writing, Grammarly is working on a Figma plugin.
Wordtune works quite differently. Rather than generating content for you, it helps you rephrase sentences you’ve written yourself. So it’s a handy companion if you’re the kind of writer who easily comes up with a first draft but find editing a drag.
How much do UX writers make?
UX writers, content designers, and other writers in the tech industry tend to earn above-average incomes. In some places in the world, UX writers even enjoy six-figure salaries.
According to our 2022 salary survey, the global average salary for writers in tech 2022 was 67K USD. But as you can imagine, this figure can vary enormously across countries, age groups, and years of experience, to name a few things.
Head over to our salary survey for more exciting numbers and stats related to what UX writers make.
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 reason I’ve heard most often is 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!
Still, the terms UX writing and content design are often used interchangeably, as Aaron Raizen discovered when doing some research and a podcast on the subject.
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 often used for other types of text production, including 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.
Long-form copy vs. microcopy
Another fundamental difference is that copywriters often work with long-form copy. UX writing on the other hand has a huge connection to microcopy. And what’s microcopy? We have a whole separate article on the subject. Here’s just a quick explanation and one example:
Microcopy is the small snippets of text found all over digital interfaces. These texts serve many functions: They are there to help people move forward in the flow, remove friction, explain what’s gone wrong, and sometimes even give the user a smile on their face.
See this example from Spotify: In a few short phrases, the microcopy assures us not just that we don’t have to pay, but that they will not ask for our credit card details:
The overlap between UX writing, copywriting and marketing
Anyway, back to copywriting and UX writing. There is plenty of overlap between the two. 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.
Personally I think copywriters and UX writers have a lot to learn from each other. And marketing teams can benefit massively from introducing UX methods and design thinking into their content production. But that’s a topic for another article!
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.
UX writing vs. technical writing
What about the connection between technical writing and UX writing or content design? They definitely share some common ground.
Like UX writers, technical writers aim to make complex information clear and easy to understand. Both need to be fully briefed on the project and the context, including style preferences, the target audience, and goals.
A difference between technical writing and UX writing is that tech writers tend to work with text-heavy documentation (online help files, instruction manuals etc.) rather than user journeys in digital interfaces. As such, the two roles require very different mindsets.
In today’s digital products, there are only traces of typical technical writing texts–for example tooltips and flows that guide the user. The goal for many digital products is to make the UI so friction-free and easy to use that support documentation is no longer needed. And this is precisely one reason many technical writers are transitioning to UX writing and content design.
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 that both are 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
First of all, is it really worth transitioning to UX writing – aren’t UX writers going to be replaced by new technology à la ChatGPT?
The recent development within AI is impressive, to say the least. Naturally, many professional writers are concerned that their jobs will be replaced by technology.
As I hope to have shown in this article, UX writers and content designers do a lot more than write copy. We’re involved in the whole content creation process, from ideation and research through design to testing and data analysis. Our best assets, besides being able to write, are our communication and problem-solving skills.
If the new tools can help us produce copy more efficiently, great! Get to know those tools so that you can use them wisely. Hint: They’re not perfect and need to be handled with care.
Will we live to see AI replace humans in meetings, discussions, planning and ideation sessions, user interviews and so on? Who knows? Well if it comes to that, the rest of society has probably also changed fundamentally. And if so, we’ll all be living completely different lives. But it would be a gradual process, not something that happens overnight.
In any case, the best way to stay relevant in this profession is to keep up to date and adapt along with the technology.
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.
Our own courses combine UX writing and design practices and we have students from all sorts of backgrounds.
But do I have to take a course?
No, not necessarily–it depends on how you prefer to learn. You can develop your UX writing skills through self-study or by creating a portfolio that you can use to apply for jobs. If you have good self-discipline, motivation and networking skills, 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 then have a word with your manager.
If you have some extra time on your hands, you can also look out for volunteering opportunities.
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? Start with our blog post 9 Beginner UX Writing Portfolios Examples.
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!