Words are a
powerful force. Copy is crucial in guiding the user and helping them complete
their desired actions. Not surprisingly, the product design field puts a lot of
focus on polishing both pixels and copy. Recently, writing copy for digital
products evolved into its own specialty—UX
writing. The UX writer
is an increasingly recognizable job title, and many large corporations
hunt for good UX writers.
With more and more
companies wanting to embed UX writers in their design teams, it’s vital to
understand what the role of the UX writer entails and how it adds value to the
overall design process.
In this article,
we’ll take a detailed look at the role of the UX writer and explore basic UX writing
What is UX writing?
Design is all about communication. No
matter what product we design, we should always design a conversation between a
product and its user.
UX writing is the practice of designing the
words people see when they interact with software. UX writers create the words
we read or hear when we use a digital product. They are responsible for both
microcopy (labels for buttons, menu options, error messages) and macrocopy
(information messages and invitations, text on confirmation pages).
Why UX writing is so important
When it comes to designing a first-class
user experience, it’s no longer enough to treat copy as an afterthought. Copy
can make or break the user experience! It doesn’t matter how beautiful your
user interface is; if the copy is confusing, misleading, or grammatically
incorrect, the user will have a bad user experience.
That’s why everything from the smallest
button labels to the welcome message has an impact on user experience. It’s the
UX writer’s job to craft the right copy.
Are UX writing and marketing writing the same things?
No, they are not.
It’s essential to distinguish a UX writer from a marketing writer. Marketing copywriters are
concerned with attracting potential customers and converting them into real
customers. UX writers create copy for people who use products (customers), and
they want to make sure that the user experience is as smooth as possible.
UX writers and marketing writers join the project in different moments. Whereas a marketing copywriter joins a project when the team has an existing product and wants to promote it on the market, UX writers are involved in the design process from the very beginning. It’s important to work on text early because text problems often reveal design problems.
What UX writers do?
As you can probably guess, UX writers are responsible for creating useful, meaningful text that help users complete tasks at hand. But they are not independent specialists; they are full-fledged members of the product team. Along with designers and developers, a UX writer works to shape product experiences. Since their goal is to ensure that the product layout and copy work harmoniously together, they typically accompany user research sessions. They also participate in cross-team collaboration and share their insights with designers and developers. The insights from UX writers can have a tremendous impact on different aspects of a future product, including information architecture (IA).
UX writing guidelines
Now that we have a clear answer to the question “What is UX writing?” it’s time to discuss a few foundational UX writing guidelines. Writing the copy of the UI design is both an art and a science. While it’s impossible to provide universal rules for writing UI text, it’s possible to provide some general rules to follow.
UX writing requires thoughtful attention to
the context and the audience. That’s why UX writers should first and foremost
understand who they are writing for and what they need when they interact with
a product. The text should be useful for the user—it should help people get
where they want to go.
Concise and Clear
UX writing exists
in the context of digital products, and it has unique constraints. Both the
size of the screen and the way people comprehend the information on a digital
space (people scan, not read) affect the copy. As a result, copy should be
concise and yet communicate the meaning effectively.
doesn’t mean short; it means something closer to efficient. When we are writing
concisely, we look at our message and make sure every word on the screen has
its job. It’s better to remove any potential clutter, any information that
might not be necessary for people who will interact with this product. Follow Mark Twain’s advice: “Writing is easy.
All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
- Inconcise copy: Would you like to save
- Concise copy: Save changes?
UX writing needs to be
accessible to users with different abilities so that everyone can have a great
experience. Try to write for all reading levels. That’s why, for the sake of
clarity, you should always remove any industry-specific terms and jargon.
Replace such terms with simple words.
- Unclear copy: Buffering…
- Clear copy: Preparing video…
We know that
people’s eyes follow an F shaped pattern as they read over the screen. They
read the first line, the second line, then start skipping down the page while
catching only the first or second word of each sentence. For this reason, it’s
important to keep your text not only concise but also frontloaded—put all
important concepts first. By doing that, you will make people’s eyes start with
important words as they scan through the page.
Also, avoid long blocks of text. Provide text in chunks—easily scannable segments of text that focus on a limited number of concepts at a time. Your copy can be broken up into bulleted lists or you can have each sentence be a max of 80 characters. Just like this article is divided into sections and paragraphs, the long copy on your website or app should have a similar structure. If you have to deliver a lot of content for your users, it’s better to reveal any details as needed. The principles of progressive disclosure work well for UX writing. In the most basic form, this mechanism can be implemented as a ‘Read more’ link to the full content.
Copy should be
internationalized across linguistic, geographical, and cultural boundaries. The
text should be understandable by anyone regardless of their culture or language.
That’s why it’s essential to use simple and direct language because not only
will it make content easy to understand, but also easy to translate.
Be careful with humor
Humor can humanize
the product. But similar to any other component of UI, humor should be
designed. People are likely to read the text in your interface many times, and
what might seem funny at first can become irritating over time (especially if
you choose to use humor in error messages). Also, remember that humor in one culture
doesn’t necessarily translate well to other cultures.
Consider the platform you’re designing for
Use language that’s consistent with the
user’s platform. The terms we use when describing the interaction with a
desktop app do not necessarily work on mobile platforms. For example, if you
design an iPhone app, we can’t say ‘click’ when referring to the interactive UI
element. We need to say ‘tap’ instead.
Tone and voice
Good UX writing not only makes interfaces
more usable but it also builds trust. But in order to build trust, the copy
must embody the voice of the organization. UX writers think how the language
they choose to use will fit into the voice of the product and brand as a whole.
What tone of voice is most likely to resonate with their user.
It’s vital to
ensure that the copy is consistent across all products and interfaces. All
parts of your products should give users a feeling that they were written by
the same person, even though many different people prepared the copy.
It’s a well-known
fact that inconsistency creates confusion. One typical example of inconsistency
is replacing a word with a synonym in a different part of the UI. For instance,
if you decide to call the process of arranging something “Scheduling” in one
part of UI, do not call it “Booking” in other parts of your UI.
Show, don’t tell principle
Human beings are incredibly visual
creatures. An ability to interpret visual information is hard-wired into our
brains. In some contexts, it might be hard (or nearly impossible) to describe
something using only words. That’s where imagery can support UX writers to
deliver the message. It supplements the copy and provides additional
information. Below is an example that helps users find specific information.
industry needs people who are intuitively good at anticipating what words are
needed and when. And as we see deeper integration with technology in our daily lives,
the need for UX
writers will only increase.
You may be
surprised at the time and effort it takes to write effective UI text. But
believe me, it’s worth it. Every word in your product is part of a conversation
with your users. And it’s your goal as a designer to design this conversation
to be effective.