How It Works, What It Is
and What It Isn’t?
UX writing is a relatively new discipline that has developed as a result of spreading and advancement of our digital environment. An inseparable part of our everyday lives, apps, websites and other digital products are becoming increasingly complex. And so is the data that gets manipulated via these touchpoints. On this premise, the need to navigate the numerous interfaces as quickly and intuitively as possible becomes more and more pronounced. Both users and businesses give preference to products that provide the most streamlined, natural experience, and a big role in this decision-making process is played by how well the product intent is communicated, how well its UX copy is written.
What exactly is UX writing?
UX writing is a practice of creating text that users see or hear when they interact with digital products (apps, websites etc). Its primary goal is to usher users through an interface, and by doing so, to help users establish a relationship with the product, and help both customers and businesses achieve their goals.
What it involves
On the surface, UX writers are mainly concerned with creating so-called microcopy. It is commonly represented by button captions, menu labels, error messages, security notes and page instructions. To maximise effectiveness, UX writers leverage clarity and accessibility, as well as ensure the resulting copy is easily translatable.
But it doesn’t stop at creation of microcopy – in a broader sense, UX writers are tasked to deliver inside-out product messaging. This includes accurate product positioning, fostering conversion, promoting transparency and user satisfaction. To achieve this, a UX writer needs to gain an extensive understanding of the product, the business goals it aims to achieve, as well as its target audience and context of use. All this entails a fair amount of teamwork and back-and-forth communication with multiple teams and departments working on different aspects of the product.
What it is NOT
UX writing is often viewed as a form of content design and creation. Therefore, some confusion is unavoidable, as people compare it against and mistake it for other content creation disciplines. Let’s take a look at how UX writing is different from its closest neighbours.
Unlike UX writing, content strategy refers to planning, managing and contextualising content in general, not just text.
The term ‘copywriting’ implies focus on client capture. It is different from UX writing in that it belongs mainly in marketing, not user experience.
While it does involve some amount of writing, it is not centered around it. Instead, it mixes creation and strategy, and is concerned with multiple media types.
The outcome of UX writer’s work
Crafting microcopy allows UX writers to integrate the user manual directly into the interface. The feature is widely taken for granted today, and this illustrates the value and the practical effect of UX copy done well.
Beside that, UX writers may be tasked with producing a content style-guide – a blueprint for copy and content that is used to communicate the company’s message and promote its products.
Streamlined user-product interaction and clear corporate messaging contribute to higher user satisfaction, building a loyal customer base, and as a result – improved recognition, appreciation and distribution of the company’s products and services. Clearly, a win-win!
UX writer’s role
Even though some companies are still oblivious to the fact that such a position even exists, many businesses that have adopted the practice early are now thriving. Just ask Google, Slack, Mailchimp and Wix, to mention a few.
The job market is, however, waking up to the demand, which means that an increasing number of jobs are being created in the field.
But how exactly does a UX writer fit within a company once they’re hired? Normally, a UX writer is a part of a larger multi-disciplinary team, working closely with public relations, marketing, business development departments, as well as UX and interaction designers, managers, content strategists and beyond.
Negotiating features, development and testing – all require a thorough understanding of the product. While UX writers can and should acquire information through independent research, they still need to ask a lot of questions to nail product positioning and interaction: How is the product beneficial to the end user? What business goals is it trying to achieve? What does the conversion funnel look like? Who is the target audience? What type of relationship is it trying to establish with its users?
Based on the information they’ve acquired, the UX writer then develops the copy. Some of the devices that are used in the process are voice and narrative development, information hierarchy, error prevention, concise guidance and subtle instruction throughout the entire user journey.
Importantly, the information should travel both ways. Other than being inquisitive and picking every useful bit of data from the team, UX writers need to consult others and provide directional input. Philosophically speaking, UX writers often find themselves fighting for the user, evaluating and improving newly added features and finding ways in which they can be communicated more clearly.
UX writing Best practices
A misconception that many teams fail to overcome is thinking that UX copy resides in the product documentation phase. Another popular one is that UX writer’s job is to simply prettify the elements implemented by developers.
In reality, UX writers should preferably work alongside developers, designing and introducing UX copy at earlier stages, as the project unfolds. This way the team can make sure that the new features are initially clear, logical, and don’t cause confusion when explained to the end-user.
Implementation-wise, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to just make the messaging “click”. Nevertheless, there are guidelines and best practices that can help you write better UX copy. Here is a list of ten pieces of advice that we feel will help you stay on point:
- Use easy-to-read direct language
- Be brief – avoid long blocks of text, and use concise wording
- Avoid confusing phrasing, i.e. things like jargon and double negatives
- Be careful when using humor – it can be misinterpreted in different cultural contexts
- Make the copy consistent – stick with the same definitions throughout the interface
- Write in simple tenses
- Write in active voice
- Prioritise CTA, make a point of providing sufficient guidance
- Avoid showing all details up front – facilitate user journey by unfolding the interface in bite-size pieces
- Identify and name interactive elements appropriately – don’t let the users have second thoughts about their next steps in your conversion funnel
The goal of UX writing isn’t just to label elements of an interface. It has a lot to do with designing a clear product message, building and facilitating a user experience that is smooth, intuitive, and fruitful for both the users and the business. Not unlike other forms of design, UX writing focuses on problem solving, rather than just making things look nice.
Achieving this takes effort in the form of working closely with other team members – developers, designers, marketers, content strategists etc. UX copy works best when it is implemented as an integral part of the product as it is being developed. When done right, it often remains unnoticeable to the user, guiding them seamlessly through the interface and allowing them to fully engage with the experience.
This is accomplished through shaping product messaging and crafting so-called microcopy – texts that appear in button captions, menu labels, CTA, error messages, confirmation messages, instructions and more.
The benefits of well-developed UX copy include:
- Higher conversions, due to clear guidance through the conversion funnel
- Increased confidence in the product, due to communicating the company’s intent more transparently
- Building trust and loyalty towards the brand thanks to higher user satisfaction.
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