What is UX writing?

UX Writing Fundamentals course

What is UX writing?

Take a peek into the first 3 lessons from our UX Writing Fundamentals course. Learn what UX writing is, why it’s important, and how UX writers work on a design team.

Bobbie Wood
September 6, 2020


This blog post is made up of material from the first 3 lessons (out of 44) of the UX Writing Fundamentals course – written by senior UX writers from Google, Amazon, Intuit, and more top companies. If you enjoy this sample, enroll in the class today!

So what is UX writing?

UX writing (user experience writing) is the practice of crafting the customer-facing text or copy that appears within the design of digital products. UX writing helps users understand how to use and interact with software products, including desktop and mobile apps, games, and other “multimodal” experiences that include voice interactions (think talking TVs, Google Home devices, or car interfaces). The primary goal of UX writing is to guide users to complete tasks in any digital product. UX writers are interaction designers for words.


Quick Links

Frequently Asked Questions

Lesson 1: Intro to UX Writing

Lesson 2: What a UX Writer Actually Writes

Lesson 3: Responsibilities of a UX Writer


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a UX Content Writer?

UX Writers craft clear, concise copy and interface text for products and web experiences. They work on product design teams and collaborate with product managers, front-end developers, and UX researchers. They create end-to-end user experiences for teams of software designers, developers, and marketers. They are also called Product Writers, Digital Copywriters, Content Designers, or UX Content Strategists. 

How do I become a UX Writer?

The best way to become a UX Writer is to first take a ux writing course, understand project and product management, look for UX Writer networks, and start applying to UX writing jobs. 

Why is UX writing important?

UX writing is important because it creates a clear and meaningful conversation between the user and the product. Without that connection, the user can become lost and leave your product for a competitor who can help them. UX Writers prevent poor user experiences with guidance, information, and error-repair messages.

See more frequently asked questions


LESSON 1: INTRO TO UX WRITING

This first unit will cover the who, what, how, and why of the UX Writer’s role. We’ll take a look at how UX writing evolved as a new design discipline, how to break into the field, who writers typically work with, and how they contribute to the product design process.

Before anything else, let’s clarify two terms we’ll use a lot: UX and UI.

  • UX is short for user experience (general)
  • UI is short for user interface (specific)

UX Writers write interface (UI) text, plus any other text needed to support the user as they interact with, or experience, a product. (If that doesn’t make sense yet, hang in there. It’s discussed in detail in this lesson.)

Another quick clarification of terms: UX Writer and Content Designer are two terms for people who essentially do the same job. UX Writer is more common in the US, while Content Designer is more common in the UK and Australia.

Alrighty, we’ve got our terms defined. Here we go!

UX writing is a design discipline

User experience writers write the text you see (or hear) in a user interface (UI). A user interface is where a person (the user) and a computer work together to get something done.

  • It’s the place where you (the user) and the computer (interface) meet and interact.
  • It’s the screens on mobile phones, tablets, and laptops.
  • It’s all the boxes you fill in and the buttons you click or tap when you’re using any software product or website app.
  • It’s also the voice you hear when you’re talking to Amazon’s Alexa or your Google Assistant.

If you look at a mobile screen without user interface copy, it’s pretty easy to see how critical the words are to the design.

Has it always been this way?

In the early days of software development, graphic designers or software engineers wrote this text. Often, the writing was an afterthought and wasn’t very good. Users were frustrated. Products failed.

UX writing appeared to save the day. Like designers, UX Writers had the empathy and communications skills to advocate for users with clear, concise copy. They understood exactly what users needed to know at just the right moment to move through a screen or complete a task.

The fundamental job of the UX Writer is to help users understand the why and the how at each step of a task so that it feels simple and uncomplicated. If an app is confusing or lacks proper guidance, that’s called friction.

Friction is anything that makes tasks harder or makes people feel confused, frustrated, and less likely to continue using the product.

Friction and frustration make people leave the app or site, abandon the cart, or go buy from your competitor.

UX writing is a serious discipline, and major companies take it seriously. Just check out how much value Google puts on UX writing in this video from Bobbie’s 2017 Google colleagues, Maggie Stanphill, Alison Rung, and Juliana Appenrodt:

UX writers are interface designers

We look critically at screen designs and flows and think about how they might be easier for users to understand. The UX Writer evaluates the screens and might make suggestions to the product designer.

In this Pinterest screen, for example, users could first check off the names of all the people they want to add. Then they could click a single Invite button at the bottom of the screen instead of clicking Invite many times for each contact added. A subtle improvement, but important for ease-of-use.

How do you know if you’d be good at UX writing?

If you love efficient well-constructed dialog, understand that all copy is also relationship-building, and notice when interfaces are hard to use, then you have good instincts.

To succeed, you’ll want to match those instincts with these skills:

    • A strong command of spelling, mechanics, and grammar
    • An efficiency with words
    • Curiosity and empathy for your users
    • A willingness to compromise with teammates
    • The drive to keep up with the fast pace of technology and design

Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, and many, many others are hiring UX Writers to fill this critical need for effective words in product interfaces. It’s an emerging field, with the number of job listings increasing every day.

Becoming a UX Writer today will set you up for future job opportunities and career growth with some of the most successful companies in the world.

Salaries range broadly depending on geographic location and company size. The good news: you can expect to make a competitive, sustainable salary extending well into six figures for senior writers. Entry level salaries in the US generally start around $80K. Writing managers and leads can make $150-300K in large corporate environments.

Here’s a Google Trends graph of searches for “UX writer” over the past ten years (2008-2018). It’s an impressive growth trajectory.

How to break into UX writing

If you’re transitioning from another writing-focused career here are some tips to get you started.

    • As a hiring manager at Google, Bobbie Wood says the biggest gap she saw was in design skills and specific knowledge of the UX writer’s role. (You’re enrolled in this course so you’re on your way to addressing that gap.)
    • UX writing is nuanced compared to journalism or academic writing. If you’re transitioning from those fields, be sure to emphasize your knowledge of the difference. You’ll want to show samples that are concise and user-focused.
    • Writing for user interfaces is a bit like writing poetry: every word must have a purpose, every sentence must be essential, meaning matters, and timing is everything. You’ll need to advocate for succinct writing as if it’s part of your DNA.
    • Your list of skills must include knowledge of software design and user experience. If you don’t have that background, consider taking a user experience design immersive course so you understand the terms and the processes.

Now that you know a little about the role, let’s learn more about what UX Writers do day-to-day.

LESSON 2: WHAT A UX WRITER ACTUALLY WRITES

So, is a UX Writer a…

    • Technical writer?
    • Marketing writer?
    • Information designer?
    • Conversation designer?
    • Digital copywriter?
    • Support writer?
    • Content strategist?

The answer is often YES to all these and more.

UX writing is the copy a user sees as they navigate through any software product

Depending on the needs of the company and the team, the specific types of writing will vary. The content a UX writer produces is called many things:

    • UI text (UI = interface text delivered via screens or voice while using the product)
    • UX copy (UX = text for any part of the user experience, including marketing and support copy)
    • Interface copy
    • UI content
    • Microcopy
    • Content
    • Product or in-product copy
    • Copy (more common in marketing contexts as is the term “copywriting”)

In smaller companies, or in companies without much of a design team, it’s common for one writer to handle everything: from the marketing website, to the interface or UX writing, the troubleshooting articles, and even more (white papers, PR releases, leadership communications, social posts).

In larger companies, roles are typically more specialized. UX Writers at large companies will generally work on one big feature or one product out of many. Different writers will handle product marketing writing and customer support writing, for example. Or, one UX writing team might focus on the user interface for the mobile app, and another team might focus on the desktop experience.

UX writing means you’ll write copy for…

First-time use (or onboarding ) text

Instruction text

Error messages

In-product marketing like engagement interstitials (a complicated name for a full-screen pop-up)

Contextual help and tooltips

Metadata (internal info that is not customer-facing, like developer IDs for tooltips or errors)

Form field labels and lists

Legal Notices

Settings (often made up entirely of text)

But what is a UX Writer’s most important job?

UX writing creates a clear and meaningful conversation between the user and the product

Users need to understand what a product can do for them and how to do it. They need instructions and a dose of reassurance. The product must engage them with clear, concise, and delightful copy.

It must answer their questions and guide them through tasks. This conversation is the core of UX writing. It’s not easy to capture in a single screen. The conversation runs through the entire user experience.

To write well about any product, you’ll need to know what that product does for your users, how it makes their lives better (not the same as “how it works”).

You should know what the competition is offering and how they talk about it. Ideally, your writing will reinforce your product’s unique value proposition (the most important benefit your product offers to users that they can’t easily find somewhere else).

It will show users how to do all those great things the marketing copy promised, and explain benefits in an irresistible way.

You’ll also need to understand exactly how the product works so you can teach users the best way to use it. What’s hard? What’s easy? For complex or difficult tasks, you’ll need to break down all the steps in the process so users can easily follow along.

Let’s think about an example of a complex task like filing taxes in TurboTax. There must be hundreds of questions TurboTax must ask its users. They keep it absolutely simple by asking (and explaining) only one question at a time.

As a UX Writer, you might find that you’re the person on your team who names tasks and features in all customer-facing text.

The more you understand about your product and how it works, the easier your job will be—and the more you’ll be able to advocate for users.

LESSON 3: THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF A UX WRITER

UX writing is a subspecialty of content strategy. In a larger content strategy, you would partner with product management, marketing, and support to identify your audience segments, and then tailor your brand voice, your images, your messaging, and your product content to appeal to those audiences.

Since user experience writing operates within the context of a larger content strategy, it has to follow the overarching guidelines of that strategy.

Content strategy deliverables can include:

    • Brand guidelines for the corporate voice
    • Comprehensive content audits for any type of company content
    • An external communications strategy
    • A marketing messaging matrix
    • Detailed documentation laying out content types and definitions for a content management system (CMS) or database
    • A detailed schematic showing which content resides in which corporate repositories and how content flows between them
    • A taxonomy of preferred terms to use for internal or external writing

A comprehensive content strategy might encompass all communications with corporate partners, industry analysts, and journalists, not only product users.

User experience writing, or content design, is a design discipline

UX writers create content for product users. The focus is more narrow and specialized than content strategy.

A UX Writer must understand the content strategy for the company (voice, tone, terms, styles, audiences), and understand how to implement it within the product experience

When we talk about user experience, what do we really mean?

User experience is a broad term that includes all the marketing text, visuals, instructions, actions, tasks, and help content a person sees (or experiences) when using a specific product. It’s often defined by the steps in a user journey.

User journeys

Imagine a person needs to solve a problem. They choose your product as the solution. Every step of that decision process is part of what designers call “a user journey.” A sales funnel (one part of the user journey) might look like this:

Awareness / Research

In this stage of the journey, a person (the user) is searching for a solution to a problem. They’re probably talking to friends, imagining what kind of product would work best for them, and searching the web for answers and ideas.

Interaction / Discovery

After researching, the user becomes aware of different product options. They begin comparing and focusing in on a final choice.

Interest / Conversion

Conversion is the moment a user decides to click the “Buy” button. They’ve decided they will become a customer. The company and product material has convinced them that this solution is the best for them.

Action / Use

After buying, these are all the additional stages while using the product. Customer support, engagement, and loyalty-building happen during product use. If the product meets the user’s needs, this part of the journey would last a long time.

A more detailed user journey defines all the phases of product use, not just the sales phase:

Discovery

During discovery, the user is researching the product, probably perusing the company marketing site and comparing options. They might also ask for word-of-mouth recommendations from friends.

Adoption

The user has committed to becoming a customer by purchasing the product, or might still be researching by signing up for a free trial.

First use

Installing and opening a product for the first time requires guidance and encouragement. First use is often called Onboarding and typically involves a brief, benefits-focused product tour.

Ongoing use

After the user has familiarized themselves with the product’s architecture and interactions, they begin to use the product at regular intervals for its intended purpose.

Engagement

This more nebulous phase of use involves building customer loyalty to ensure positive word-of-mouth recommendations, introducing users to new features that (hopefully) improve their experience, and fun or profitable motivations offered to customers to bring in even more users (like a program offering one-month free service if you invite 3 friends).

Support

As much as we’d like all products to be problem-free, we know users will need help and support. This phase of use involves customer service and help desks, knowledge bases and help systems, and extended services and sales for physical products that run software.

It might look something like this:

The UX Writer works closely with the product team to write (or oversee) all of the text shown to users throughout the user journey.

Using a consistent voice and tone helps users understand what to expect, and even enjoy the product as they use it. Guidelines for each one of the buttons and interface components in an application keep the experience predictable and consistent for the user.

Mid-to-senior-level writers might also create text for chatbots and other voice-based interactions.

Depending on the size of the company, the work might fall to just one writer or might be divided across multiple teams.

For example, a large company like LinkedIn might have a team of writers and designers who develop all the UI text for the desktop product, and another team that handles writing for the mobile apps.

UX writing tasks

Here are some of the activities a UX Writer typically takes on, in no particular order:

    • Works with product teams to find written and visual narrative design solutions
    • Collaborates with marketing, design, and development teams from the project’s outset
    • Represents the user’s needs to product managers, designers, and developers
    • Adheres to the team’s development process (like agile or kanban), workflows, and delivery methods
    • Uses the same tools as designers and developers
    • Partners in usability and marketing research
    • Collaborates across the entire team (marketing, product management, leadership) to improve copywriting and communication
    • Partners with a content strategist to ensure the effectiveness, appropriateness and proper governance of overall language
    • Writes amazing copy
    • Teaches and empowers others to write amazing copy

The chances are good that your co-workers will want to work closely with you and learn from you.

You’re the specialist when it comes to talking to users through the product interface in the most effective, concise way possible.

Bad experiences result in more negative word-of-mouth sharing. The report also notes that good experiences lead to an increased likelihood for future sales.

Your job as a UX writer is important—it directly impacts customer goodwill and the company’s bottom line.


This blog post is just a very small taste of our UX Writing Fundamentals course. If you want to become a UX writer, learn more and sign up!