What is user experience writing?
Learn all about what UX writing is, its guiding principles, and what the writing process looks like. Discover the skills you need for the job, and how to become a UX writer.
User Experience (UX) writing is all about making sure that the words and text used in digital products like websites, apps, and software are easy for users to understand and navigate. It's a profession that's still relatively new, but is becoming more and more important as we all rely more on digital products in our daily lives.
This article provides an introduction to the world of UX writing, including what it is, the responsibilities of a UX writer, and the guiding principles that inform their work.
By the end of this article, you'll have a clear understanding of what UX writing is, what a UX writer does, and how their work helps create digital products that are easy to navigate and understand for users.
A definition of user experience (UX) writing
User experience (UX) writing is the process of choosing the right words for a digital product. The focus of UX writing is the text, or copy, that helps users navigate software, websites, and apps. We often refer to this text as microcopy – it’s the text you find on buttons, menu items, notifications, error messages, and more.
But UX writers don’t just write microcopy. They also work on larger pieces of content like support documentation. Or they tackle strategic projects like creating style guides.
UX writers come with a variety of titles. Content designer, product writer, digital copywriter, and UX copywriter are other common titles. Some UX writers also have other responsibilities, like marketing, product development, or design.
UX writing is a profession that’s still in its early stages. Previously, UX writing was part of UX design, but it's since become more refined. UX writers bring an understanding of user experience, design, writing, marketing, and user behavior.
What are the fundamental principles of UX writing?
Becoming a UX writer means being able to write copy that supports users. Good copy helps users understand what they need to do and how to get things done. To create great UX writing, it helps to follow these guiding principles.
This means keeping things as simple as possible. Sometimes it means breaking down a complex piece of information into steps. Other times, it means choosing simple words to convey a message.
In the below example, when you invite a new team member to your UsabilityHub account, you only need to provide an email and choose a role. It’s a simple one-step process, instead of a long form that asks for more details than what's needed.
This principle is about making sure users understand the message. This might mean adding a guide or explanation when necessary, and using wording that people can understand (or in other words, using plain English). When it comes to clarity, it's important to remove any technical jargon that might cause confusion.
For example, when adding a new section to a UsabilityHub test, the copy explains what each test section is. Short sentences with simple wording help to clarify what users can do with each type of test.
When writing for a digital product, there’s often a limit on how much space is available. This means sentences should be as short as possible. Sometimes you’ll need to choose words for length, or write sentences so they can fit within a design.
For example, on the UsabilityHub site we've written concise drown-down menu items. This makes for a visually appealing menu, and the short wording helps users find what they're looking for quickly.
One of the core goals of UX writing is to allow as many people as possible to use your product. This means writing text that's unseen to most in order to enhance the experience of users that may use your product differently. For example, a person who has low vision may choose to use a text reader, so UX writers will write alt-tags that describe images clearly.
This can also mean providing options for your users. In the example below, users have three ways to get support when purchasing UsabilityHub credits. They can read the quick FAQs, consult the full Help section, or have a chat with a real person. These options help users get support in a way that works for them.
All users of a product should feel welcomed. Using respectful language is key to addressing issues such as gender, age, and race in a way that feels welcoming. Inclusivity is about choosing language that resonates with the widest audience possible.
For example, on our platform we address all of our users directly using the “you” pronoun. When that's not the best option, we choose the gender-neutral “they”. We don’t make assumptions about our users and focus on inclusive language when writing copy for our product and website.
What is the UX writing process?
The difference between UX writing and other types of writing is the process that UX writers follow. Let’s explore the steps a UX writer takes to go from idea to product release.
1. Understand the brief and conduct user research
The first thing a UX writer needs to do is to understand what a user’s main goals are when using the product. Sometimes, a brief will explain what the user is trying to do and there are clear guidelines for the copy that needs to be written. But with bigger projects, a UX writer might be involved in the research stage and use this to figure out what the user's needs are. Through the research process, they’ll also get a glimpse into the vocabulary users understand best.
Some common research methods include user interviews, card sorting, surveys, usability testing, and eye tracking. Sometimes, a UX writer might collaborate with a UX researcher for this phase of the project.
2. Build a content model
UX writers often write many versions of the same message. For example, copy for buttons, notifications, error messages, and so on. Building a content model means having a template for these core elements of a product.
For some UX writers, the content model is a more detailed version of a product’s information architecture. For others, the content model, the information architecture, and the wireframes of a product are the same. It all depends on the complexity of the product, and the number of parties involved in building the product.
3. Write the copy
Once you have a clear idea of the copy needed (research) and a structure to write it in (the content model), you can start drafting the copy. This means writing the text for all the various parts of a product.
UX writers tend to write copy in a word processing tool or spreadsheet. But some UX writers work directly in the design files, or using a tool that’s made specifically for tracking UX copy.
4. Add copy to a prototype
This is the part where copy and design meet. Sometimes, UX writers will add the final wording to a prototype design. In other cases, a UX designer will do this step. No matter who does this, a UX writer needs to review all the copy within the design. This helps ensure copy is in the right place and that there aren't any typos or grammatical errors.
5. Test and refine
UX writers are often involved with testing prototypes, along with the UX designer or product designer. Depending on user feedback you receive, you may need to rewrite or tweak some copy.
You can't finalize the copy until this phase of the project. It’s not uncommon for some “final” copy to be reviewed later on, too. As users give more feedback, or as the product evolves and changes, so does the copy. Testing and refining can be an ongoing process.
What are the most common UX writing tools?
UX writers use tools that have more in common with UX design than with other types of writing. That’s because copy is an integral part of the product design process.
Here are the tools UX writers tend to work with.
- Pen and paper: Of course, you can’t go wrong with the basics. Pen and paper is sometimes the fastest way to jot down your ideas. It also makes it easier to capture ideas when you’re not at your computer. Like fiction writers or copywriters, UX writers have ideas that come at the most unexpected times!
- Research tools: Part of choosing the right words means using vocabulary that users prefer to use, so it’s important to do your research. Prototype testing is a good way to get feedback from your target users. Use their thoughts to create a mini dictionary of the common language they use. Tools like UsabilityHub can help you gather and make sense of this data.
- Writing software: Most writers create their drafts and final copies with a tool like Word or Excel. Other writing tools, like GatherContent and Airtable, help UX writers track content across versions. These tools save copy in a format that’s similar to a content model.
- Wireframe software: For writers who create wireframes, tools such as Balsamiq or Sketch can be useful. You can use wireframe software to design the templates, and copy those templates repeatedly, as well as write your copy directly into them.
- Design and prototyping tools: Design and prototyping tools are getting better and easier for UX writers to use. Figma is a popular design tool as it allows for collaboration. This makes it easy for a whole team of writers, designers, product managers, and developers to leave comments and then adjust the copy or design as needed.
Who does a UX writer work with?
UX writers usually work within a product team, but are sometimes part of the marketing team. No matter which team you’re in, as a UX writer you can expect to work with the following roles.
- UX and UI designers: These designers focus on the usability and visual elements of the product. When they need help finding the right words, they'll turn to UX writers to create the copy. You may also need to ask UX/UI designers to create visuals for new copy you’ve written. These are your closest co-workers, and in many cases, a single person takes on both the UI and UX design role.
- Product owners/managers: When a product is big enough to have a product manager, this person will brief you and review your work. They’re often your direct supervisor, but can also be a colleague on an equal footing.
- Marketing team: The language used within a product has to be consistent. The marketing team makes and enforces guidelines that define the dos and don'ts. You’ll often work hand in hand with them, even more so if you write longer content like support documentation or style guides.
- Development team: Developers build and make sure the product functions. Sometimes, they'll ask you to write copy that explains how the product works. Other times, you may need to ask developers for clarification to make sure your instructions are technically accurate.
UX writers in larger companies can work on a specific part of a product and only write microcopy. Others, in smaller companies, also take on roles in marketing and communications. And some UX designers will handle UX writing.
How to become a UX writer
Let’s look at the skills you’ll need to become a UX writer, and how to break into the UX writing profession.
- Writing and editing
- User experience knowledge and research
- Basic design knowledge
- Information architecture
- User testing skills
- Ability to learn quickly: While there’s a growing number of courses, certifications, and books on the topic, UX writing is still a fairly new and growing profession. Sometimes we can only learn through practical work, so being a quick learner is a valued skill.
- Good listening and empathy skills: What makes a UX writer great at their job is their ability to understand users and listen to what they say. As a UX writer, you have to put yourself in a user's shoes and learn to read between the lines.
- Creative thinking: If it was easy to ask users exactly what they wanted and fix a product's problems that way, UX writers would be out of work. Sometimes, UX writers have to take what seems like a problem with no solution and find a creative way to make a product easier to understand.
- Decision making: Some UX writing revolves around trial and error. That’s why the testing and refining phase can be ongoing. You have to be able to make decisions based on the data you have and be adaptable to change.
- Presentation skills: You'll have to present your work to colleagues and explain why your choice of words is best. Great presentation skills will help you move your projects forward.
UX writing certifications
As we mentioned above, UX writing is still a fairly new profession, so it’s not an expectation to have a certification in order to get a UX writing job. UX writers tend have degrees in related fields, like writing, languages, marketing, design, or psychology. Mixing these qualifications with the right skills is one way to get into UX writing.
If you do decide to pursue a certification, both online and in-person courses are available (we've added some recommendations below).
Once you have a job or a certificate in UX writing, you can also specialize in different areas. Accessibility, information architecture, and content modeling are popular specializations. There are specific courses, workshops, and books you can turn to to learn more about these specializations.
Where to learn more about UX writing
Below are some good sources of information to learn more about UX writing.
- UX Writing Hub (free and paid options)
- UX Content Collective (self-paced, online and in-person workshops, and coaching options)
- Microcopy & UX Writing: The Complete Course (by Kinneret Yifrah, via Udemy)
- Introduction to UX Writing (by Dr. Katharina Grimm, via Udemy)
- Content Design London courses (free and paid, online and in person)
- Writing Compelling Digital Copy (by Nielsen Norman, online)
- Daily UX Writing Challenge (free, 14-day challenge)
- UX Content Collective
- UX Writing Hub
- The UX Copywriter
- UX Writing Home
- UX Planet
- Nielsen Norman Group
- XD Ideas
- 52 Weeks of UX
- UX Matters
- Writers in Tech
- Writers of Silicon Valley (final season already published)
- The Content Strategy Podcast
- User Defenders
- Content Design Podcast
- Strategic Writing for UX by Torrey Podmajersky
- Microcopy: The Complete Guide by Kinneret Yifrah
- Writing is Designing by Michael Metts and Andy Welfle
- Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton
- Content Design by Sarha Wilson
- UX for Beginners by Joel Marsh
- Writing for Designers by Scott Kubie
- UX Writing Basics by Marie-Pier Rochon
Frequently asked questions about UX writing
What is UX writing?
User experience (UX) writing is the process of choosing the right words for a digital product. UX writers create copy that helps users navigate a website, app, or piece of software. We often refer to this as microcopy – the text you find on buttons, menu items, notifications, and error messages. UX writers also work on larger pieces of content like support documentation and style guides.
What are the principles of UX writing?
Good UX writing helps users understand what they need to do and how to get there when using a digital product. The following principles therefore apply when it comes to UX writing: simplicity, clarity, brevity, accessibility, and inclusivity.
What is the UX writing process?
UX writing can be distinguished from other types of writing by the process that's followed. This process tends to follow these steps: understanding the brief and conducing user research, building a content model, writing the copy, adding the copy to a prototype, and conducting user testing and refining copy.
How do you get into UX writing?
UX writing is an emerging profession, so there's no formal way to become a UX writer. Many people who get into UX writing have degrees in related fields such as writing, languages, marketing, design, or psychology. There are also UX writing certifications available, and you can specialize in specific areas such as accessibility, information architecture, and content modeling.
What skills do you need to get into UX writing?
To become a UX writer, you'll need a good mix of technical and soft skills. Technical skills include writing and editing, basic design knowledge, user experience knowledge, wireframing, information architecture, research skills, user testing skills. Soft skills include an ability to learn quickly, good listening and empathy skills, creative thinking, decision making, and presentation skills.
Marie-Pier Rochon is a Brisbane-based UX copywriter who specialises in making complicated technical topics sound simple. She loves learning and writing about UX, design, and technology, and wrote a book called UX Writing Basics. You can also find her on LinkedIn.