What is UX writing?

There are lots of articles about UX writing, what it is, and how it works. So I thought, why not add one more? I’m a UX Writer and it’s a job title I’ve worked towards for a few years now. This article comes from my experience and development.

Me, with Albie on my lap, writing some UX copy at TrustedHousesitters.

UX writing is the practice of designing the words people see when they interact with software. It’s about designing the conversation between a product and its user. — Lisa Sanchez, What is UX writing?

There are many different writing disciplines, such as marketing, copyediting and technical writing. But UX writing is specifically writing for the user experience. The context, emotions and psychology are different. How users interact with an online experience is very different to, say, a marketing campaign.

So what does a UX writer write? Often it’s the functional copy or ‘product copy’. By product copy, I mean any written content on a website or app. This could be help text, error messages, and the questions a user has to answer — and all the little bits in between. The little content is ‘microcopy’.

Microcopy in action

The Medium app side menu.

It could be as simple as the page labels within a side menu, such as with the Medium app. Saying ‘Stats’ instead of ‘Statistics’ is noticeable yet it’s still clear. It’s written in a language most people use.

The Tumblr app form asking 'How old are you?'

With the Tumblr app the field holder copy gives you clear, friendly instructions. There’s also some extra copy to show what you’re agreeing to.

The Tumblr app form asking for your sign up details.

Rather than asking for you to create some log in details, the Tumblr app asks ‘What should we call you?’. It also gives some explanation around why they need these details.

These examples are clean and clear. Medium and Tumblr both neatly explain each action, field, and link.

Data-driven decisions

A key part of UX design is using data to back up your decisions. This is the same for UX writing. Data analytics helps build an understanding of the people using the service and how they use it. It can tell us the different patterns that groups of people do, such as all using a certain button over another.

It’s not just quantitive data though, it’s also qualitative data. This means doing usability research to understand user behaviour. This includes listening to the language user’s describe the service with. Another great way to do this is working with your customer services department. They have recordings, data, and anecdotal evidence. This can show what those contacting us think, feel, and say.

User experience and conversational design

One of the ways we design these experiences is through conversational design. And you can’t have a conversation without words!

Conversational design is designing based on — you guessed it — human conversation. The theory is:

the more an experience follows a human conversation, the less users have to be taught in order to use it

It’s even part of Google’s design guidelines.

One technique to us when beginning a project is writing a conversation, like a script. By writing what the user would say and how we would respond helps determine what words you need. This clearly defines the tasks the user needs to do and what the user needs to know. We can then write that conversation directly into the product or service.

Plain English

UX writing isn’t just writing though, it’s defining best ways to write for users.

The first, and arguably most important principle is writing in plain English. By avoiding jargon and explaining clearly we have more accessible content. Content that’s inclusive to a wider audience.

This is a principle that works across industries. We’re all guilty of internal business words or phrases that creep into our products and services. But this has a negative effect on our user’s understanding and, ultimately, their trust. By using clear, simple language we improve the experience for all our users. It helps their understanding, regardless of their reading abilities.

There are also other ways UX writers make information clear and plain. I wrote about some tips and techniques when writing for the web for Prototypr.

Collaborating in multidisciplinary teams

One big area of difference between a UX writer and most other writing is how closely we work with designers. It doesn’t make any sense to build a service or product and then drop words into it at the very end.

Let’s say the designer has only left a small amount of room for four or five words, that’s what they predict would be needed. The writer then finds it needs to have at least 15 words, the design would then need to change.That’s more work. Alternatively, the designer might leave lots of room for lots of words. But the writer says they can explain it in four or five words.

Because of this, it makes sense that writers and designers work together. Having a second pair of eyes helps. Designers can point out flaws where the writing doesn’t quite work. Writers can point out where design could solve the problem.

It also means work moves along together at similar paces. This makes it easier for stakeholders. They don’t always understand the differences between UX disciplines and need to see how work is progressing.

So that’s UX writing!

There’s content designers, content strategists, product writers, UX writers, UX copywriters and more. The different job titles, while once interchangeable, are becoming more defined. I’ve worked in the industry for almost 3 years now (at time of writing). I wrote my first article on Medium back in April 2017!

Since then I’ve learnt a lot more. I’m developing my focus and finding where my strengths lie. Right now, I feel like UX writing is perfect for me. It includes both my passions for design and writing. It combines them into a unique way of looking at digital products and services.


This article was originally published on Medium on 10 July 2019.

This article has been kindly republished by Fi Shailes on Digital Drum.