We struggle to find the right words sometimes. If you communicate the wrong message to your users, how can you suppose to win them over? 

UX Writing refers to the crafting of copy for user interfaces. It guides users within a product and help them interact with it effectively. It’s not just marketing, it’s navigation, help text, buttons, CTa’s, instructions, errors/warnings, labels, and more.

Also referred to as microcopy or UX Copy. We will call it UX Writing here.

Words Matter

Here’s why. Have you ever tired to give someone instructions and they weren’t able to follow them? Was it their fault that they didn’t understand OR is it possible that you delivered or worded the instructions wrong? There is no interface involved in this situation, but the principle is the same.

If you tell a child to scramble and egg, they would understand what that means, but if you told them to poach in egg, they wouldn’t know what to do.

If you are designing a budgeting interface for consumers, and you use terms that an accountant might use on a day to day basis, your user is going to feel inadequate while using your product. No one is there to hold their hand, so what will they do? They will give up and not use your product anymore.

When You Don’t have a UX Writer

UX Writing has always existed, but it’s a relatively new role that was never called outright. Kind of like Kale, it’s always been a super food and it’s not a new vegetable, but it’s a hot ticket item. A UX Writer role is like the kale of vegetables…I could go on more with cheesy metaphors, but let’s leave it at that.

Most companies have their own in-house writing staff. A good copywriter staff is aware of trends of how to compete for a reader’s attention from a marketing standpoint, but not all writers are experienced with crafting words for a user interface.

A problem at play is where a copywriter might not understand the product or understand the mindset of the user, because they aren’t involved with its life cycle or understand the customer journey. They may only get a 10 minute introduction to the problem you are trying to solve through writing. If they give you their time and expertise, but it doesn’t align with the product, what do you do? It’s a tough decision to be in. It doesn’t mean they aren’t a bad writer, they just don’t have the expertise or practice. You can be an excellent bike rider (do wheelies, spinny jumps, or ride with no hands), but that doesn’t mean you will be naturally good at riding a motorcycle. 

You always want to give a copywriter the benefit of the doubt and let them know what they’ve provided doesn’t feel right or steer them in the right direction. The lesson here is to understand that gaining a traditional copywriter isn’t a simple solution.

For reasons like this and similar situations. More often it’s on the designers shoulders for good UX writing if you don’t have a dedicated UX writer.

When Working with a Copywriter

It’s hard for us to design without copy, right? Well for a writer, it’s hard to write copy without a design. It’s a chicken and the egg dilemma. The trick here is to work together and pickup some responsibility for crafting copy. You yourself have to be effective enough in guessing what the copy can be. Present a design with your own touch of copy in mind. This helps your copywriter get into your head of what you were thinking. Avoid Lorem Ipsum when possible, but sometimes you just need to use it.

The best way to help them is to spend extra time outside of design to set them up for success.

The Impact of UX Writing

When you have the right words, the experience has great impact for your user. Here are some high level examples: 

  • Influences the UI and UX of the interface
  • Gives a clear meaning of features, tasks, or problems the product can solve for the user
  • Can affect navigation and architecture continuity 
  • Make a complex task easy 
  • Persuade a user to upgrade a product
  • Provide clear call to actions that the user can take
  • Give clear signals or warnings of what they user is about to do
  • Provide confirmation that something was accomplished

My Main Tips

I could go on and on about best practices, but here is a digestible list that I think is important to good UX writing.

Give your interface a voice

  • Use a friendly normal speaking tone. Don’t sound like a robot.

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  • Talk like you are talking to another person and read it aloud to make sure it sounds normal.
  • K.I.S.S. – keep it simple stupid. Avoid unnecessary big words and complexities. 

Writing and editing are not the same

  • A writer knows the principles of grammar, spelling, tenses, punctuation, and etc., but the english language is complex.
  • Editors know more about the rules better, can catch mistakes, find inconsistencies, or fact check. 

You know that “i before e” rule? 
Except when your foreign neighbor Keith received eight counterfeit beige sleighs from feisty caffeinated weightlifters. Weird.

Be more descriptive

  • Kill the “Learn More” button 

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  • Don’t cop-out and be basic. Simple and basic are not the same thing. Simple can be concise and to the point. Basic is unextraordinary and plain. 

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  • Users have hesitations. So persuade them or give assurance to follow through to the next steps. 

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Final Thoughts: You’ve Already Been Writing for UX

Remember when I said we already struggle to find the right words? You’ve already been practicing UX writing throughout your life. By putting the practice into place in your designs, you’re becoming better at it all the time. 

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