UX writer vs. copywriter: These are two often-confused roles that are really quite distinct. So let’s break down the differences between the two.
Copywriting has been around for a while—think 19th-century department store ads in newspapers. User experience (UX) writing on the other hand, is relatively new to the scene. The world of print and early web marketing has given way to advanced, more diverse digital content, and the rise of mobile apps and web services. It’s no wonder the focus on effective user experiences has further changed the digital landscape. It’s also changed the writing landscape.
Both UX writing and copywriting are the craft of creating stories with words. Both want to convey a certain message. Both are a process—planning, writing, editing, and submitting. And, at least these days, both are done with digital word processing and content management tools (and pages of scrawls, scribbles, and sticky notes).
So, what makes these two writer roles that seem so similar, so very different? Is it the job description? The work environment? The skill set? Let’s break it down.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- UX writer vs. copywriter
- A day in the life UX writers vs. copywriters
- Collaboration and work environment UX writers vs. copywriters
- What are the skillsets of UX writers and copywriters?
- Closing thoughts
1. UX writer vs. copywriter
Let’s start by defining these two similar, but also quite different writing crafts in a nutshell.
What is a UX writer?
A UX writer is someone who writes to guide users to complete tasks in a digital product or service. They’re usually part of a product or design team, and they usually have knowledge and/or qualifications in UX design principles. They mainly write short-form and microcopy for elements like buttons, notifications, forms, error states, and onboarding flows. UX writing is concise and simple and designed for smooth user flows and optimal customer journeys.
For a full introduction to UX writing, check out this workshop recording:
What is a copywriter?
A copywriter typically writes advertising or publicity material . They’re usually part of a brand or marketing department, and they write anything from catchy headlines, ads, and brochures to landing pages, blogs, social media posts, and email campaigns. Copywriters think up words that attract and engage readers, promote products, and move customers down the sales funnel.
2. A day in the life of UX writers vs. copywriters
Day in the life of a UX writer
To get a better idea of the different roles, imagine yourself as a UX writer at work on a typical day.
First, coffee! Then a “stand-up” meeting with the product manager/lead and UX/UI designers to cover progress, changes, and any blockers or problems.
Your project plan shows a workshop sit-in with researchers doing user interviews. You want to be there to observe user behavior, hear about pain points and motivations, and take notes on the language they’re using.
Next, you finalize the copy on an onboarding flow for a new feature. You did two onboarding versions, so they can be A/B tested to see which is most effective. You touch base with the localization team to be sure the wording works for translation into other languages.
Wow, the day is already done!
To learn more about the details of what a UX writer does, check out this guide from UX Writing Hub’s Yuval Keshtcher: What does a UX writer actually do?
Day in the life of a copywriter
First, coffee! You recently wrote a blog and accompanying social posts that linked to a new clothing line.
Now you check the analytics to see how they’re performing. Web traffic to the site is high from the blog, but more engaging social posts are needed. Click-through rates (to the clothing) from subscribers are good, but sales are slow. Time to plan an email campaign.
Another project entails rewriting an outdated landing page. You start a content audit and keep the relevant copy. It needs new headlines, so you do a bit of keyword research, have another coffee, and brainstorm. Those headlines can also be used for online ads.
Whoa, is that the time already?
3. Collaboration and work environment of UX writers and copywriters
UX writer: A highly collaborative role
The UX writer is never alone—except when staring at the dreaded blinking cursor.
As a UX writer, you’re likely to be part of a product or design team. That means you’ll often collaborate with other teams like research, localization, development, legal, and even marketing.
Teams (usually) work collectively in short design sprints—an aspect of Agile product development. UX is all about the user and empathizing with their needs and problems to create solutions. So, interacting with users and stakeholders will be part of your project plan.
Then there’s workshop participation. Whether in research (like interviews), brainstorming, or copy crits (like design critiques to constructively assess work), workshops are essential to UX processes. Any wordsmith interested in UX writing should first know a bit about the design thinking process.
Copywriter: A role with broad scope
I don’t want to characterize copywriters as lonely souls—though they’re also no stranger to the blinking cursor. Nonetheless, a copywriter’s work environment tends to be more independent than it is for UX writers.
Usually you’d be connected to the marketing team. Copywriting encompasses many content channels, so roles and collaboration vary depending on company and specialization.
Say you write primarily blogs and social posts. You might only work with an editor or content manager. Even in an Agile company, marketing departments might work more on a campaign basis—longer projects, happening adjacent to product development.
Copywriters are still very aware of their users. But they might view them more as readers or customers.
4. What are the skillsets of UX writers and copywriters?
As you might guess, both UX writers and copywriters should possess knowledge in at least the essentials and mechanics of writing and editing. Conducting user research, analyzing data, using content style guides, and storytelling are some of the skills both roles share.
In fact, many copywriters transitioning into UX writing find that they have many transferable skills! Both roles can learn from one another, but certain skills are more role-specific.
UX writer skills
- Knowledge of the design thinking process
- Collaboration across many teams—design, research, development, localization
- Working in sprints with Agile methodology
- Empathy and user-centric thinking
- Writing and mechanics of microcopy
- Wireframing/prototyping tools
- Conducting design thinking workshops—in discovery phases, brainstorming, or stakeholder presentations
- Knowledge of usability testing procedures
- Data-driven and capable of in-depth analysis
- A holistic view of a product’s design and development (the interrelatedness of design and development from start to finish)
- Writing and structuring long-form and short-form copy
- Creative, conversational storytelling with metaphor, analogy, anecdote
- Knowing the audience as well as the business goals
- Knowledge of marketing methodology
- Ability to use content management system (CMS) tools
- Understanding of search engine optimization (SEO), using keywords, and keyphrases
- Research—topics, audiences, trends, competition, fact-checking
- Ability to interpret web analytics
- A holistic view across content channels—ads, blogs, social, print
One crossover skill that’s becoming increasingly important is a working knowledge of inclusive language. Learn more about it in this video (it’s focused on UX writers, but the concepts apply to both fields):
Since UX writing is an emerging role in the world of UX, it’s still common for job ads to layer or combine these skills under a variety of writing-related job titles—UX writer, copywriter, content designer, copyeditor, and so on.
But rest assured, if you’re looking to break into UX writing, it’s steadily becoming a more defined role as the demand for amazing, user-centric microcopy increases.
5. Closing thoughts
Hopefully, we’ve put the differences between a UX writer and a copywriter more into perspective. These are two very different roles that operate in two different environments with very different goals—and that utilize a pretty vast array of skills on the way to accomplishing those goals! But as I’m sure you’ve noticed: there are many gray areas and crossover points.
You might be someone interested in starting out in UX writing. Or perhaps you’re a copywriter looking to transition, or even just improve your copy game with UX methods. If so, allow me to offer a piece of closing advice to start the journey: Start learning about UX design and the design thinking process. If you’ve got a knack for words, you can specialize from there!
If you’d like to learn more about UX writing, check out these other articles:
- The Ultimate Guide to Inclusive UX Writing
- Here’s How to Become a UX Writer in 2021
- 11 Outstanding Books for UX Writers
- The Best UX Writing Courses (and How to Pick One)