There’s an exciting opportunity right now for copywriters that no one’s really talking about: UX writing.
If there’s one industry that will continue to thrive in 2021 and beyond, it’s technology.
The tech market continues to enjoy exponential growth and, as a result, UX writing is becoming increasingly valuable.
That’s a lot of products and services that are going to need good UX writers.
UX writers are already in very high demand, so if you’re a copywriter who’s looking to make some serious money, this is the perfect time to learn how to become a UX writer.
Don’t worry if you’re not particularly clued up on UX writing… this is where I come in.
Whether you’re looking for tips, tactics, guidelines, examples, or career advice, you’re in the right place.
Check out the quick links below and jump to the section you want, or settle down and get fully clued up.
What is UX writing?
UX stands for user experience and UX writing refers to any copy that influences someone’s experience of a brand.
UX writing has a huge impact on the success of a business.
A UX writer uses language to help deliver the best experience possible for new and prospective customers. In theory, this coherence is needed everywhere, but UX writing is most commonly associated with websites, apps and software.
- Loading forms
- Menu labels
- Navigation labels
- Confirmation messages
- Error messages
Collectively, these small pieces of copy are often referred to as microcopy.
Want to see UX copy in action?
Let’s take a quick look at Google Maps, a service that most people have used at some stage. When you think about it, the app has an incredibly difficult goal:
To direct anyone to any destination.
From technical glitches to incorrect coordinates; from unreliable maps to a confusing interface, there are a myriad of things that could go wrong. And the fact that Google Maps works so well is largely down to effective UX writing.
Despite all the features and variables, there are surprisingly few errors and very little confusion in Google Maps.
We see a simple app but, in reality, a lot of thought and testing has gone into the smallest of details. From the shape of the buttons to the labels, the icons to the size of the fonts, nothing is left to chance.
The ultimate goal for every business is to provide the best possible user experience at every touchpoint, be that on a website, an app, or a set of instructions.
Ultimately, UX writing needs to be clear, concise and helpful [as well as on-brand].
Why is UX writing important?
Imagine if you unwrapped a brand new iPhone and it was completely unintuitive and hard to use. Worse still, imagine if the quick-start guide was really unhelpful.
How would that make you feel? You’re going to want to return it. And then you’d probably tell your friends. Perhaps even have a moan on Facebook.
A UX writer can turn all this around.
You know the error message you see when a device can’t connect to the internet? A good UX writer would communicate the situation effectively and offer clear, useful guidance.You know the kind of quick-start guide that comes with a new TV? Smart brands use a UX writer to make sure the first experience with their product is as amazing as possible.
As you can see, UX writing is incredibly valuable.
When someone goes from point A to point B [such as from a sign-up form to a confirmation page, or a download screen to a set-up guide], this is known in the creative world as a ‘flow’.
Best practice would see a UX designer work alongside a UX writer, with the pair creating wireframes that illustrate what should happen in this flow. A product manager would then oversee the whole thing and deal with feedback from stakeholders.
The idea is that the design and copy should work together. In reality, sometimes a UX writer is hired after the designs have been finished. As you can imagine, retrofitting copy into a specified area makes everything much harder for the UX writer.
Regardless, good UX writing makes flows simpler, actions clearer and choices easier.
In a nutshell, it reduces complexity and removes obstacles. It ensures that people don’t feel angry, confused, lost or frustrated.
It keeps customers happy, enhancing brand credibility and customer loyalty in the long-run.
Think about the last app you downloaded. Was the app easy to set up and use? Did everything live up to your expectations? Or did it surpass them?
A good UX copywriter can be the difference between a product doing well, or not. UX writing has the power to influence whether a business flourishes or fails.
That’s why UX writing is so important.
The difference between copywriting and UX writing
There are many similarities between UX writing and copywriting. Much of the advice you’d give to a copywriter would apply equally to a UX writer. But while both disciplines are about communication, the real difference lies in the focus.
Copywriting sits within marketing.
Copywriters try to influence people to take an action of some kind and deliver against a specific business goal. Sometimes that action might be specific to the user experience, but copywriting is usually used for commercial reasons [like clinching a sale].
By contrast, UX writing is all about the customer.
UX writers need to provide the most relevant, valuable and helpful copy in any given situation. They’re good at problem-solving. They’re extremely logical and empathetic.
UX writing is part of the design process and UX writers are comfortable with key design principles.
It’s a collaborative role that requires patience. You need to have an open mind and be a friendly team player.
Overall, copywriters and UX writers share many skills and attributes, which is why copywriters who are particularly good at clean thinking often make a slight pivot and specialize in UX writing.
UX writing principles
Are you looking for UX writing tips? There are 8 key UX writing principles that I’ve gathered from working on multiple high-profile projects:
1. Keep things simple
UX copy should always be concise and coherent. You cannot risk confusion. Avoid jargon and waffle - simple, everyday language is needed.
2. Be personal
To give people a truly worthwhile experience, UX writers must engage with them correctly. Address them directly and use friendly, inclusive terms.
3. Be proactive
Good UX copy is helpful. Never leave people wondering what to do next. This is especially important in the case of error messages, where something usually has to be fixed.
4. Put yourself in the users’ shoes
Whenever you’re deciding between which word to use or how to express something, think of things from the user’s perspective. Work out what’s best for them and go from there.
5. Use the right tone of voice
Good UX writing will always be effective, but throw in some branding and that’s when the magic happens. Offer users a joined up experience from start to finish.
6. Think about design
UX writers need to understand basic design principles. Great copy might not work if the words can’t be presented clearly and effectively.
7. Be consistent
Inconsistency is a huge problem for most brands. When a user sees something referenced in various ways, it breaks rhythm, trust and integrity. And may even lead to confusion.
8. Measure what you write
Always analyze whether your work is doing its job. Use data. Use research. Look at all the metrics and every journey to see if there are any issues.
Now, it’s important to point out that, with some projects, a couple of these principles might be at odds with each other.
For instance, perhaps a certain screen within an app has very little space available, which prevents you from being able to use a consistent term.
If this happens, you need to strike a balance between the guidelines. When you do that, you’ll dramatically improve the user experience of whatever it is you’re working on.
How to create a UX writing style guide
When it comes to UX writing, there is no one-size-fits-all style guide. Project requirements will vary wildly depending on the business and the circumstances.
However, there are some common issues that most experiences feature, especially when it comes to software. Here are a few things that often need to be agreed on upfront:
- How to write numbers
- Avoiding large blocks of text
- Format for dates
- Format for times of the day
- Banned jargon
- Character limits for any given page
- Tone of voice
- Regulatory restrictions
The UX writing process
Just like great copywriting, great UX writing requires a lot of research.
The journey begins with improving your product knowledge. Understanding every nuance of the project you’re working on is key.
After that, I’d recommend focusing on the user. What are their needs?
Next, we must specify where UX copy is needed and define the various problems.
What are the different flows? How big is each issue? How do we solve them? Once we’ve explored ideas with the creative team, we must create the copy and get it approved.
Then it’s a case of testing the copy with a user group to get feedback and validation. The final step in the process is analytics. We must measure how the copy performs and iterate where necessary.
UX writing examples
Let’s take the principles I covered earlier and work through an example situation.
Suppose you’re trying to log into a website of some kind, perhaps your online bank account.
You enter your password and see this message:
Unfortunately, that password did not match the one we have stored on our system.
It's a basic example of the type of error message you see all the time and there are a number of things wrong with it.
Working from top to bottom, let's start with the title. It's a little aggressive and not very descriptive. If you were in a hurry and glancing at this on the move, it's not easy to get a feel for the issue.
The capital letters and the exclamation mark makes everything feel a little aggressive, so as well as creating a different heading, we could think about incorporating an icon to soften the impact.
Underneath, the copy is written very formally. We should think about tone of voice and use everyday language.
Finally, the call-to-action [CTA] does absolutely nothing for the user. It doesn't offer them a solution. We don't want to leave anyone stranded so we must be proactive.
Taking everything into consideration, what about the below instead:
Hmm, that wasn't the right password
Let's get you sorted. Was that a typo or have you forgotten your password and need to reset it?
I think the difference here is stark. We have a descriptive heading written in a casual, calm tone. The icon showing someone looking confused adds a little personality.
The body copy has a nice tone and talks about 2 different options. Finally, the CTAs give 2 clear routes for the user to choose between.
The UX writer career path
Wondering how to become a UX writer?
UX writing is no longer an afterthought. It’s a well-recognized, specialist job. Some of the biggest brands around [like Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon] entrust brilliant UX writers with crafting words that can help grow their empires.
Although moving into UX writing as a complete career change may prove difficult, the good news is that it’s a fairly new role. So hiring managers can’t expect years of UX writing experience.
Having said that, some relevant experience is going to be needed, and if you want to get into ux writing, the best idea is to become a copywriter and hone your craft first.
It would allow you to pick up writing experience, enhance a number of skills and build your copywriting portfolio.
Then you can make a slight pivot, focus on UX writing as your niche and earn some big bucks.
UX writing salary
The average salary for a UX writer is $70,000 per year [or about £50,000 per year if you’re in the UK]. That’s for a permanent role within a company.
However, such is the demand for expertise, a senior UX writer with a solid reputation could earn $150-300K in larger corporations.
That would equate to approximately £117-235K in the UK.
And don’t forget, you also have the option of becoming a freelance UX writer. As with copywriting, becoming a freelancer removes any ceiling on your earnings.
Becoming a freelance UX writer is a little harder than being a freelance copywriter, as clients are looking for specific experience and may require you to work on-site in a creative team.
Having said that, moving to freelance UX writing may be the right move when you’ve been a UX writer within a company for a while.
UX writing jobs
If you’re looking for a UX writing job, I’d recommend the usual channels: LinkedIn and recruitment agencies [those that specialise in creative roles].
Avoid Upwork and places where UX writing skills aren’t rewarded.
UX writing books and resources
One of the best ways to improve your UX writing skills is to read a few books and check out online resources.
The best UX writing books
The best UX writing resources
The UX writing market is exploding
The role of UX writer is relatively new, and there’s never been a better time to get into UX writing. The need for UX copy isn’t going anywhere; it pays extremely well, and if you move fast, you won’t need much experience to get started.
So long as you have some copywriting experience and you can demonstrate a good understanding of what I’ve covered in this guide, you’re good to go.
It’s a great opportunity to specialise in something that’s highly valuable to all businesses and create a lucrativelong-lasting writing career for yourself.