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GuidesUser experience (UX)Getting started with UX writing

Getting started with UX writing

Last updated

13 April 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Eliz Ayaydin

With more attention than ever on digital products, writing, and tech careers have dramatically converged to ensure products are as intuitive, useful, and attractive as possible. In fact, user experience (UX) writing—the art of carefully honing product language for greater customer satisfaction—has become one of the most promising tech career trends.

Major development companies are even staffing up to one UX writer for every six designers. Companies slow to adapt are quickly following suit, and the best part is that, compared to other development roles, UX writing jobs have a relatively low barrier to entry.

What is UX writing?

Any time a digital product needs to inform or direct the user's attention, it must be clearly and effectively communicated. Just as UX design enhances usability through better product layouts and presentation, a UX writer uses engaging, succinct copy to fulfill the product's purpose and help customers understand how to navigate through the digital experience.

Software and other digital products have shifted away from training manuals, instead teaching users as they go with prompts and other messages written right into the product. UX writing is concerned with how effectively those messages convey the right information at the right time to create a seamless and satisfying user experience. Doing so involves a large amount of research into how different user types interact with products and their motivations for doing so.

What does a UX writer actually do?

UX writers are the wordsmiths of the UX design team. While developers are focused on the processes that make the product run, the UX design staff as a whole ensures that customers understand how to successfully use and navigate the product while enjoying the experience.

Like the designers, UX writers have enough of a technical background to understand the details of how the product functions—but their job is to explain how it functions in a simple, personable, and clear way that gives a unique voice to the brand

Doing so means working at the intersection between product and development teams, UX designers, and, above all, customers. A good UX writer can satisfy all of these objectives with their design thinking finesse and talent for writing. 

Their daily activities involve collaborating with other roles to create and apply:

  • Content strategy

  • UX research and testing

  • Design tools

  • Style guides

  • Product copy

These tools generally go hand-in-hand with the design team, but wherever language is the most appropriate tool, the UX writer takes the lead.

Daily tasks of a UX writer

On any given day, UX writing can involve any combination of:

  • Conducting user interviews & workshops

  • Writing copy for new product features

  • Integrating copy into product designs

  • A/B testing different flows, such as versions of onboarding

  • Coordinating with localization teams about language translations

A major part of UX writing is collaborating at an almost company-wide scale, and as far as development jobs go, it's one of the most social. When writers aren't absorbed in their developer-grade text-editors, you'll find UX writers meeting and working with:

Types of UX content

Any time a digital interface presents instructions through written language, UX writing comes into play—most commonly in:

  • Menu design and page navigation

  • Interface hints or instructions

  • Subtle prompts for encouraging user interaction

  • Supporting content, like explanations of separate functions or new features

  • Altered website functionality (e.g., broken links and other error messages)

  • Calls to action (CTAs) to motivate further engagement

What are the main differences between UX writing and copywriting?

Just as in print publishing, digital text can be referred to as copy—but UX writing is very different from copywriting. While UX writers work on copy used in the product itself, copywriters write almost exclusively about the product as part of the marketing team. 

The copywriter's job is to promote the product through:

  • Ads

  • Blogs and articles

  • Social media posts

  • Landing pages

  • Emails

Unlike UX writers, copywriters aren't guiding customers with copy through the actual product; rather, they're guiding audiences towards the product through various stages of the sales funnel and customer journey.

There's a world of difference between UX writing and copywriting, but you'll often see the former used interchangeably with "UX copywriter." It makes sense because UX writers also create copy—but it's within the boundaries of the product itself and involves much shorter text (or "microcopy") than standard copywriting.

When you see "copywriter" (no UX), think instead of ad copy, which can range from catchy headlines to several-thousand-word sales funnels. Broadly speaking, the two fields involve wholly unique:

  • Purposes—UX writing shapes the product, while copywriting promotes the product

  • Disciplines—UX writing aligns with product development, while copywriting aligns with marketing

  • Mediums—UX writing is within the product itself, while copywriting goes where the audience is

  • Tone—UX writing is concise, neat, and instructive, whereas copywriting is promotional

That said, these two written arts share a few skills, such as conducting user research, analyzing data, storytelling, and using content style guides. They both also use language to achieve maximum engagement.

Skills required for a UX writer

Along with a solid command of written language, UX writers draw from several communication fields. Depending on the company, this often means borrowing elements of:

  • Marketing for consistent brand messaging, tone, and SEO

  • Technical writing

  • Minimal HTML

  • Copywriting

  • Research for conducting data-dense UX analysis

Beyond writing, UX writers also need at least cursory UX and UI design knowledge. Color schemes and other graphical elements often work in tandem with font colors and styles, and copy placement must be tightly coordinated with graphics, layout, and interactive elements.

More than anything, the "UX" part of the job is what makes it unique to all other writing careers. Professional writing of any sort involves at least some insight into psychology, but more so in UX writing, where reader behavior is a deeply integrated consideration in daily tasks.

Because customers are the final authority on whether a product is easy and satisfying to use, it’s essential to plan from the perspective of the customer. To do so, UX writers must discover the core motivations driving customer engagement with a product.

Good output demands good input—meaning UX writing requires exceptional research skills. Without losing sight of the human element, a talented UX writer depends on sharp analytical thinking to design, conduct, and interpret UX research. Furthermore, it's not uncommon for UX writers to spend less time writing and more time reading and listening.

As you can imagine, their highly analytical side must be balanced with those all-important and elusive soft skills. Being able to switch back and forth between hard data and subjective reasoning is essential. Ultimately, UX writing jobs require balancing data-driven analysis with curious and open-minded empathy.

How do you know if UX writing is for you?

UX writing is a budding field, so very few have the whole skillset right away. As one of the most rapidly evolving product development roles, its somewhat informal job requirements are gradually solidifying, but they're anything but uniform.

Just a few short decades after Apple's first User Experience Architect coined the term "user experience design," the title of UX Writer was held by people with incredibly diverse backgrounds. 

From fully self-taught individuals to Ph.D. professors, there are few hard-and-fast barriers to entry apart from an applicant's ability to demonstrate talent in:

  1. UX design

  2. Professional writing

  3. User research

  4. Product design

Though they're a decidedly unique bunch, UX writers often tend to have several defining traits:

  • A design-thinking mindset

  • Active listening skills

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Agility

  • Zeal for constant learning

Along with the concrete technical skills described above, if you have a way with words and an eye for details others tend to miss, UX writing could be the perfect role for you.

How to become a UX writer

As mentioned, there's no formal entry point for UX writing jobs—but the stronger your background in the skills described above, the more you'll stand out from the competition. As of early 2023, an entry-level UX writing salary reached around $80,000*, so you can be sure the competition will increase.

Those with writing, marketing, copywriting, communications, and PR backgrounds have been the most frequent hires, followed by those from education, product management, content strategy, and journalism**. Developers and UX designers haven't gravitated to UX writing jobs, so the competition is largely from the outside in.

This means companies are mostly hiring UX writers from outside of product development teams, opting instead for professional writers, editors, marketers, teachers, and content curators. However, these are just the overall trends. Just as many UX writers come from totally unrelated fields, such as teaching careers. Learning the trade from scratch is well within reach for just about anyone with the willingness to learn.

There are numerous UX writer courses, ranging from free online webinars and self-paced study guides to formal courses with certifications, mentors, and even job-placement guarantees. Just as industry-respected "coding camps" sprouted up to serve the demand for developers, those interested in landing a UX writing job have similar options available.

Start by comparing the various UX writer training resources, then select one with a solid track record of former graduate success. Note that translation is an important subcategory of UX writing, and when applying, look for development companies serving industries you've worked in to help you stand out from the competition and demonstrate a passion for customer interests.

FAQs

What is a UX writer’s salary?

According to ZipRecruiter, the average UX writing salary in March 2023 was about $82,000. Some UX writers are landing six-figure jobs right out of the gate (mostly in California), while others enter the field closer to $50,000 where the cost of living is lower. 

First-year salaries for UX writing cover a widespread, but there's a high potential for advancement. For experienced UX writers, the average salary is $133,000.

Are UX writers in demand?

As of the early 2020s, there's been a steady demand for UX writing jobs. Companies are planning to hire thousands of UX writers in the next few years.. Demand is steadily increasing, with companies staffing as many as one UX writer for every six UX designers.

What's the difference between UX writing and UX design?

While the two seem similar, there's a clear distinction. In fact, before UX writing took off, UX designers considered good UX writing the missing link in their efforts to satisfy customers.

UX design is the process of designing products so users enjoy maximum success and ease of use. 

UX design encompasses all elements, including text, but also:

  • Overall layout

  • Graphics

  • Multimedia

  • Interactive, changing, or dynamic elements

  • Sitemaps and screen flows

UX writing creates text for easy and quick comprehension. Through clear and informative copy, UX writing aims to give customers more value from a product by communicating the most relevant information at the most appropriate time.

What is UX product copywriting?

UX product copywriting is the same thing as UX copywriting. As mentioned earlier, you'll often see “UX writer” interchangeably used with "UX copywriter," as well as “UX product copywriter.” 

Sometimes UX product copywriting can refer more specifically to guiding users through the product's purpose and function, pointing out useful features along the way. It's the aspect of the product that teaches users how to use it, generally providing minimal text.

What are examples of UX writing?

The "remember me" checkbox on websites is one common example. With a single, well-timed message, the user learns that they can press a button to stay logged in and save time in future visits. 

Other examples of UX writing include:

  • Friendly error messages with links to troubleshooting resources

  • Simplified data-entry forms that achieve minimal bounce rates

  • Newsletter sign-up requests with links to a sample

  • In-app tutorials that show how the app works

  • Minimalist interface and sparse microcopy

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