What Is UX Writing and Why Does It Matter?

CareerFoundry Blog contributor John Cheung

UX writers are being hired globally, and if you’re job hunting for a UX design role, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will have seen listings for UX writer positions popping up all over the place.

And why is this? In keeping with the fascinating history of UX design, the industry continuously evolves and adapts to do it’s job even better. This means that as we better understand massive impact that microcopy has on overall user experience, the more we realize the need for specialists to devote their time and expertise to fine-tuning this side of things.

There are over 3,000 UX writer jobs advertised on LinkedIn in the US alone. There are 297 in Germany. 487 in the UK. 224 in India, 74 in Canada, and 24 in Israel. Given this is just one website, the true number of open roles is likely even greater than this.

But, what exactly is UX writing and why does it matter? How does UX writing relate to UX design? And why are more and more companies hiring UX writers?

We’ll take you through these questions and more in this overview of UX writing. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. What is UX writing?
  2. What does a UX writer do?
  3. What skills do UX writers need?
  4. Do I need UX writing skills as a UX designer?
  5. Resources to learn UX writing
  6. Final thoughts

Close up of a person sitting at a desk with one hand hovering over a laptop keyboard and the other writing with a pen on a notepad

1. What is UX writing?

Simply put, UX writing is the process of creating content that helps the user accomplish their goals.

To really understand what UX writing is, you need a good understanding of what “user experience” is in the first place:

“User experience (UX) refers to any interaction a user has with a product or service. UX design considers each and every element that shapes this experience, how it makes the user feel, and how easy it is for the user to accomplish their desired tasks. This could be anything from how a physical product feels in your hand, to how straightforward the checkout process is when buying something online. The goal of UX design is to create easy, efficient, relevant and all-round pleasant experiences for the user” (read more about user experience design in this guide).

The key part of this definition as it relates to UX writing in particular is “accomplish their desired tasks.”

UX writing is the process of creating written content that helps the user accomplish their goals.

This means that the words need to be user-centered. But that doesn’t mean business goals should be ignored.

Instead, UX writing is about creating content that strikes a balance between business goals and user needs—and works in harmony with intuitive UX design to give users an incredible experience.

Venn diagram illustrating "words" at the intersection of three circles labeled "UX Design," "UX Research," and "Business Goals

But what does user-centered content actually look like? Thankfully, there’s general agreement in the industry about this.. User-centered content is:

  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Consistent
  • Actionable

UX writers create content based on these four characteristics to ensure the user is always moved forward in their journey. It also happens that this is most often good for business as well!

In fact many UX writers have drawn a parallel between their trade and customer service, as the main goal of both professions is to give the user or customer the assistance they need to move forward with their goals, and to keep a good relationship with the company. Both call for an empathetic understanding of your users and their needs.

Making sure the user is always moved forward also means that a strong knowledge of user journeys within the product experience is essential.

The content UX writers create also needs to embody the product’s voice and tone. In fact, UX writers often play a vital role in creating  voice and tone guidelines for a product, making content strategy and branding somewhat inherent to their role.. Which leads us nicely to the next question.

Want to learn more about what UX writing is? Check out this webinar introduction to UX writing.

2. What does a UX writer do?

A UX writer’s job is to create the words that help the user accomplish their goals, and make sure they appear in the right place, at the right time.

But what exactly is required to do this? What are the steps that go before? And what shape can those words take?

A UX writer works closely with both UX designers and UX researchers to figure out precisely what a user’s goals could be within their product and where they need to go to achieve them.A vital part of the design process, this is called customer journey mapping or user journey mapping.

So if UX writers, designers, and researchers are all in there, collaborating on the same projects, what’s the difference between these roles? They each bring different skill sets to the process:

  • UX researcher: Creates user needs/goals, personas, establishes which features should be prioritized, gathers evidence and research for design decisions—why the product should look and feel the way it does
  • UX/UI designer: Uses this research to gain insights and to come up with creative solutions to design problems; creates wireframes and/or prototypes to test these solutions to ensure that they will actually  the user to accomplish their goals as easily as possible
  • UX writer: Creates the words to gel with all of these components, creating a conversation within the product experience that—again—helps users to achieve their goals as easily as possible

Often, particularly in smaller teams or companies, a UX writer’s responsibilities will overlap with UX research and UX design. So a UX writer may often find themselves helping out with the creation of personas, contributing to a features prioritization workshop, or sketching wireframes. The responsibilities overlap can also apply in the reverse, with UX designers sometimes called on to cover UX writing duties. We’ll explore this in more depth in part four.

As well as collaborating with researchers and designers in the overall design process and customer journey mapping, creating microcopy, and creating, maintaining, evolving voice and tone guidelines, a UX writer may also work on some or all of the following:

  • Competitor analysisLooking at what competing products/brands are doing with their copy and assessing whether or not that would be effective in context.
  • Product writing: Any words within the product, this can include microcopy but also onboarding and longer form content such as landing pages and FAQs or help
  • Creating UX writing guidelines: Particularly useful in larger organizations, these guidelines will help product managers, UX/UI designers and anyone else writing follow UX writing principles
  • Copywriting: Start-ups and small businesses often require their UX writer to double-up as a copywriter or vice-versa
  • Social Media: Again, start-ups and small businesses often need someone with the UX writer’s skill set to double-up in writing for social platforms
  • Email: Whether or not the copy in email campaigns or help email templates falls under UX writing is very much up in the air; either way, this can fall on the UX writer, again this is more likely in a small business
  • Communication/Video/SEO: While none of these would fall under the remit of the UX writer, some have been known to help with PR, comms, video scripts, SEO research, and more; once again this would be far more likely to happen in a small start-up.

For this reason, a strong UX writer will have a solid understanding of general UX principles, research, success evaluation, and prototyping—as well a broader knowledge about content creation and product writing. This is what makes them experts in user-centered content.

So what exactly does “user-centered” content consist of? A lot of what a UX writer creates could be categorized as microcopy, in other words the small bits of copy within the interface that help the user accomplish those key goals.

Microcopy often includes:

  • Button copy
  • CTAs (calls to action)
  • Error messages
  • Alert & notifications
  • Empty states
  • 404 pages
  • Tool tips
  • Help texts
  • Hover texts
  • Hint texts

Because of the emphasis on conciseness, some components of microcopy are often only a few words or even less.

For example, a UX writer might need to decide between three different options for a CTA (call to action) or button copy,:

  • Find out more
  • Learn more
  • More info

Which one is best? On the surface, they all look quite similar—but the first two are actions the user takes, whereas the third is the benefit the user receives for clicking on the button. This tiny difference could make the difference between a user deciding to click forward…or not. The best option is the one your users respond to (and you find that out through research and testing).

Microcopy is highly contextual, which means choosing the right words for the situation depends heavily on several factors:

  • What goal the user is seeking to accomplish
  • Where they are in the journey
  • Where they have coming from and where they are going
  • What information and/or terminology they know or don’t know
  • What their emotional state is likely to be
  • What is their relationship with the product/brand—whether they’re a long-time, established customer or a first-time user

As a consequence of this, what might look like a simple choice can actually require a painstaking amount of research, discussion, and testing. Which brings us to the UX writer’s core skillset.

(It’s important to add that UX writers don’t only write microcopy. They develop an awareness of the entire user journey and create compelling copy across the entire experience, from product pages to emails and more.)

UX writer, wearing glasses, sitting on a couch with a laptop, notebook, and pen

3. What skills do UX writers need?

A UX writer’s skill set is relatively varied, but focused on one thing: working with others to create written content that understands where the user is and where they want to go. Because UX writing is a subset of UX design, it’s worth understand whether you feel you’re a good fit for a career in UX design (along with the writing-specific skills you’ll need.)

Beyond that, one of the best ways of understanding the range of skills needed to be a good UX writer needs is to think about them in four groups:

  • Writing/Editing: UX writers are versatile and polished writers, and accomplished editors with a keen eye for detail. They’re aware of (not attached to) traditional grammar rules, but flexible and context-driven.
  • User-centred thinking: As in UX design, a strong UX writer is committed to empathizing with their users. They understand UX design processes and design thinking on a wider scale, and know how to apply that to the words they’re creating.
  • Research/Data-driven: A UX writer is not wedded to their words, instead they follow data, usability testing, and research in an iterative writing process. They know their product inside out, they’re familiar with prototyping, and they’re open and curious to new ideas.
  • Collaboration: They are excellent communicators and natural collaborators. They explain their decisions clearly, build stakeholder relationships and are comfortable giving and receiving feedback. They excel in diverse, multidisciplinary teams.

4. Do I need UX writing skills as a UX designer?

At this point you may be wondering whether you’ll need to demonstrate UX writing skills as a UX designer. The short answer to that question: Not necessarily, but having some core UX writing skills can certainly be helpful.

It really depends on the size of the company you’re working for and what they expect from your role.

Generally speaking, UX designers outnumber UX writers on design teams, often by a pretty huge number. What this means is that if you’re working as the lone UX designer or one of just a handful in a start-up or small business, your design team may not include a UX writer.

In these cases, the UX copy will normally fall on the copywriter, content writer, or marketing team. Alternatively, someone from the executive team or a product manager might take the lead on copy. Other times, UX designers will end up doing the UX copy by default.

In larger organizations with big design teams, roles are usually narrower, more focused, and more clearly defined, with less need for people to cover responsibilities clearly outside of their remit or expertise.

So, unless you’re aiming to be a full-stack designer, if you work at a tech-giant company will likely collaborate with a UX writer—who is ultimately responsible for the words; if you’re the first UX designer in a start-up with no full-time writer, you might be expected to double-up in UX copy creation.

Either way, a good grasp on the fundamentals of UX writing can be a great addition to your UX design toolbox. And understanding key concepts in UX writing can help you think about your product in a broader way—not to mention giving you an edge if the subject comes up in a job interview.

If you’re thinking about taking a course to learn UX writing, check out our guide on the best UX writing courses out there.

Close-up of a writer's hand, holding a pen and scribbling notes

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

5. Resources to learn UX writing

There are heaps of awesome free resources out there if you want to learn more about UX writing. Here are some to get you started.

Websites and podcasts

Books

You can also check out the Microcopy & UX Writing Facebook Group, these examples of great UX writing portfolios, and The Content Strategy Compendium by Ashlee Phillips.

6. Final thoughts

To wrap up, here are some key takeaways on UX writing and how it relates to UX design:

  • UX writing is the process of creating the words that help the user accomplish their goals, and making sure they appear where and when the user needs them
  • UX copy or content is clear, concise, consistent and actionable; it always moves the user forward
  • UX writers collaborate closely with UX designers, UX researchers, and Product or Project Managers
  • UX writers are data and research-driven and follow the same UX principles as designers and researchers.
  • If you’re a UX designer, UX writing skills could make you more employable—especially if you’re looking to join a start-up or small business— and help you think about your product in a broader way.

And remember that creative block is just as real for UX writers as it is for anyone else! Here are 9 ways to overcome creative block for UXers (and anyone else who’s hit a wall).

If you’d like to learn more about a career in UX writing, here are some other articles you’ll find useful:

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