Have you ever visited a website and it seemed difficult to navigate because the instructions are unclear? What was your experience like? Not too good, I guess. It is always an unpleasant experience when you take actions you don’t intend to do on a website, simply because the words are ambiguous. You could even end up deleting a piece of information you ought to save.
Now, as simple as words are, they play a huge role in how a user would interact with a product because words inform users on what to do and how to navigate the product. That aspect of using words to tell a user how to use a product is what UX writing is all about.
UX writing involves using simple words to guide users through a product. It helps them to understand what the product is about, inspires users to take action, and guides them on navigating a web page. This is why UX writing has to be clear, concise, and coherent because it determines if the user will be able to use a design solution or not. Poor UX writing would make users lose valuable information on a product’s page.
A good design with poorly written instructions can damage a brand's reputation, depending on the gravity of the blunder made. John Saito, a Senior Product Designer at Lattice, said “once users start noticing typos and inconsistencies, they start losing trust in your company. If your company cannot take the time to write properly, why should they trust you with their time and money?" Hence, the importance of UX writing cannot be over-emphasized.
In this article, you will learn the concept of UX writing, its importance, and the right strategies in UX writing.
What is UX writing?
UX writing is the practice of writing clear and concise words that help users navigate a product and also have a good interaction with the product. Thus, UX writing will prioritize users' comprehension of words, and create words that resonate with users' pain points.
UX writing should not be confused with articles and blog posts about a product. Product articles and blog posts are content that seeks to provide in-depth details about a product or inform users' minds on why they need to use a product.
Meanwhile, UX writing comprises words on the product itself. The texts are called copy or microcopies. It comprises the copy you see on the web pages of a website, the words you see on a button, the error messages, the alerts, and the CTAs.
The prefix "UX" (user experience) is the keyword for this type of writing. It emphasizes that the content is for the purpose of creating an experience for the product's user. This is essential in product design because a clear, interactive copy makes the product easy for users to use.
UX writing is like your vacation tour guide that takes you through a journey. The guide goes beyond directing you on where to go. He would engage you in a conversation about those places, giving you detailed information about the new places you are visiting. So, you can call UX writing "the user's tour guide."
You have to see your copy as a conversation between you and the user. So, you are not just throwing words at your user to fill up a web page. You are communicating with them, trying to use words that will make the product simpler to use them.
A good example is the Mailchimp app. In the image below. The copy tells the user the status of the request they sent. The statement lets the user know that the action they took did not get lost in the air.
Thus, you cannot start your UX writing process without understanding how to communicate with users. The UX writer should be the best person to explain how the product works in words. You are the best person to define users' comprehension level to the designer and also explain the designer's visual representation to users.
To buttress this, Erica Hall, a design consultant, opines that it is better to design the conversation between the product and the user before creating the visual design. The way you use your words determines the kind of experience your user gets with the product.
This is what makes the difference between a regular copywriter and a UX writer. The aim of a UX writer is to create desirable experiences for users. A copywriter writes to persuade users to take an action.
A UX writer writes to inform, guide, and offer a seamless experience for users while trying to use a product. It goes beyond persuasion. It is a communication that seeks to bring clarity. Copywriters are not always part of the design process; they only need to create words that appeal. However, UX writers work closely with designers, because they need to have good product knowledge before writing anything.
Let me make this simpler to understand, and break everything about UX writing into bits that you can understand as a beginner. We will examine the elements, the process, best practices, the skills required, and some other important details you need to know about UX writing.
What does a UX writer do?
UX writers are responsible for creating the copy for digital products. The UX writer is not just another writer. As a UX writer, you write with a design thinking mindset, think thoroughly about the product, research the features of the product, and think of how best to create a good experience for users while using the product.
The UX writer is a designer, but you express your design with words. Beyond writing about the product; you should be empathetic about the users and your copy should reflect that empathy. Scott Kubie, a Content Strategist at Mailchimp said, "If you are a UX writer, you are a UX designer, and you need to learn UX design. Not the software (necessarily), but the principles and methodologies. It's less "writing, but apps", more "design, but words."
The job of a UX writer is to provide a clear understanding of the why and how of each step they take on a product page so that it is not complex, and also create an enjoyable experience for them as they complete tasks with the product. To achieve this goal, UX writers write different types of copy for digital products.
What does a UX researcher actually do?
Types of UX writing
The types of UX writing you use for your product would depend on the requirements and peculiarities of that product. These are the common types of UX writing.
1. User Interface text
The user interface texts are the words you see on the web page. The central theme that welcomes you to the page. The short copy is at a section of the page. These texts help the user understand the product or service the company is offering. User interface text includes onboarding messages, instructions, and customer support texts.
Microcopy refers to the small text found in buttons on websites, alert messages, error messages, navigation links, forms, etc. They guide the user on what to do.
The UX writing process
It is important that you follow a detailed process for UX writing. You can also decide to dive right into it without any process, but you would have to figure out a lot of things along the way. You can avoid the hassle that comes with that, by following a detailed process.
Here are the steps for the UX writing process
1. Understand the company objectives and product goals
UX writing reflects the company's goals and objectives and if you don't have a full grasp of what the objectives are, you will surely misrepresent the company. You want to start by communicating with the management of the company, or team lead. You also need to communicate with the product manager to have an in-depth understanding of the product or the service the company is offering. This would help you to know the action words to use in your UX writing.
2. Know your target audience
The term user experience already implies that your processes should center around your user. Your writing cannot be effective if you don't know what your users want or their level of comprehension. Let's take a cue from the todoist app. The app is for organizing your tasks and activities.
Thus, the target users are those seeking to become more organized with their tasks and daily activities. Now, check the central theme on the todoist website, you will discover that the first word itself is enough to motivate the user to use the app. The first word already depicts a solution to the user's pain points. That is what knowing your target audience can do for your UX writing. It helps you find that single word that hits right into your user's pain point.
Why UX design cannot survive without user research
3. Conduct competitor research
Competitor research helps you create a defined personality that edges out your competitors. As earlier said, you need to create a distinct voice. To create a distinct voice, you need to research your competitors first. Check what they are doing, and see how you can do it differently.
Another reason for conducting competitor research is to be familiar with the words used in that product or service niche.
4. Check wireframes and draft
The wireframes from UX designers help you to see the layout of the interface and the structure for each page. This enables you to know the flow of each page and the user journey. Knowing the user journey is vital to creating engaging microcopy. You know what to write and how one statement will lead to the other. If you can get a good understanding of the wireframe, you are ready to create your first draft.
5. Add your copy to the design
To validate the texts you have written, you need to add them to the design prototype and see how the words and design flow together. This process allows you to see copies that are too long for the design, and elements you need to add to your copies to give a clear definition of the design.
At this stage, you are working with the UX designer, so that you can both agree on the words and the design concepts for each section
6. Refine the copy, and conduct user testing
The result of adding your copy to the design help you see what to refine in your copy. Make the necessary changes and test with selected target users. Don't try to explain the words to them. You need to see if they understand the words without guidance. This is the true test of good UX writing. Once you are able to achieve this, you are good to go!
However, your UX writing process will only be successful if you are conscious of the core elements of UX writing. These elements are guiding principles for each step you take in your writing process.
The elements of UX writing
There are three major elements of UX writing. They are Usability, Motivation, and Personality.
If you are familiar with UX design, you should have heard about usability. Usability is an important methodology of the overall UX design process. Usability is a measure of how easy it is for users to complete tasks with a product. For designers, this implies making the designs simple enough for users to comprehend what they represent.
For UX writers, it implies communicating in clear terms to users. This can be taxing because you might have complex concepts to communicate, and you have to use a few words that catch users' attention within a few seconds. The golden rule in this situation is not to fall into the temptation of using technical jargon.
Don't try to make your user know the technicality of their error. You only need to tell them what went wrong in simple English. Avoid writing something like: “Authentication error due to inconsistent security information”. Rather write this: “Incorrect login details”. Or you can be more specific and write “Incorrect password”.
You'll learn more about this as you continue with this article. Or you can just quickly glance at the first point in "Best Practices for UX writing".
How to improve the usability of a system
The endpoint of UX writing is to inform users so that users can make a decision. In the process of doing this, you will feel tempted to emphasize the features of the product. That is great! But, if you want to appeal to users' motions, you have to make them see benefits and not just features. Thus, you need to use empathetic terms.
Personality helps you maintain a consistent voice in your UX writing. Personality involves creating a clear definition for your brand through your writing. You cannot afford to get lost in the sea of several products that are springing up daily. As of 2021, there are 3.48 million apps on Google Play Store, and an average of 3,739 apps are added daily since the beginning of 2022.
Now, how do you make your product stand out in this pool of diverse products? The solution is to have a distinct voice. Truth is, your creative design also has a lot to do with this uniqueness, but you can only communicate the uniqueness to users through your copy.
For example, Paystack and Flutterwave are both Fintech companies, but if you check their website, you cannot but notice the distinctiveness in their copy. The tone defines each company's uniqueness.
Now, if you can get a good grasp of these elements of UX writing, they would help you approach each UX writing with the best practices to create a clear and concise microcopy. Let's check some of the best practices that are based on these elements.
Best practices for UX writing
The elements of UX writing are better expressed when you follow the best practices for UX writing. It is easy to think that UX writing does not require any special practice since you are only writing a few words. The truth is, those few words determine how users will perceive the hours of hard work you put into product development.
1. Be clear
You cannot have a usable product if the microcopies are not clear enough for users to understand. Always remember that you are writing for users, not for designers or yourself. So, it does not matter if you understand what you are writing. The question you should ask is, will a regular user understand?
The worst thing that can happen to a UX writer is for users to say, "This statement seems confusing", "I don't know if I should click this button or ignore". The feedback shows that the copies are ambiguous, and that's not good for you.
One way to ensure clarity in your microcopies is to have a major active word that cannot be mistaken. For example, if you check the Brave Achievers website, the word "Learn" stares you in the face, everywhere. It makes it easier for you when you want to click on a link. You can always refer back to that active word. Even if the link is to donate. You are sure that the donation is to help others learn.
Clarity also implies that you let users know what each design means. Also, avoid technical terms. Use simple words to communicate. The rule is to write for users, not for designers or search engines.
2. Be concise
Don't make your users think. While clarity implies that you use simple words, conciseness implies that your words are straight to the point. No fluff. Don't use many words. For example, "Save this information before deleting" is fluffy and ambiguous, when you can just write "Save and Delete".
Here are a few tips to make your writing concise
Buttons should not have more than two words.
Descriptions should not be more than four lines long. Long descriptions bore people.
Avoid passive sentences.
Alerts should not have more than two words.
3. Be consistent
Consistency ensures that you don't have irregularities in your UX writing. To make sure you are consistent, you should use a style guide for your writing. If you want to use uppercase for the first letter of your titles, ensure that is what you do throughout. Being inconsistent makes the whole writing crappy, and it reduces credibility.
4. Be conversational
Write like you are having a physical discussion with your users. Remember, you are not writing for a robot. So, you should carry your users along in your writing. Being conversational is not the same as being overtly expressive. You do not need to write hundreds of words because you want to be conversational. Conversational implies that you pre-empt your users’ actions and you are specific in addressing them.
5. Write in active voice
The aim of UX writing is to engage your users and get them to take action. The effective way to do this is to use active tenses. For example, instead of saying, "All the fields must be filled before you can submit", you should write "Fill all fields before you submit". The second is more direct and precise. Passive words are usually longer and filled with unnecessary words. If you want to be clear, concise, and conversational, use active words more.
6. Write for accessibility
It is important to write in a way that everyone can understand irrespective of their peculiarities. Do not use words that leave some people out. Consider all groups, races, tribes, and people with special needs when you are writing, except if they are not in your target user group.
UX writing skills
You cannot create an enjoyable experience for users if you cannot empathize with them. As a UX writer, you can develop empathy by communicating with target users and discovering their pain points. This implies that you should work closely with UX researchers during their research process. Empathy helps you pre-empt users’ behaviors and write words that align with those behaviors.
Curiosity is the bedrock of creativity. You need to have moments of critical thinking about the product. Ask questions on how the product works. Put yourself in the place of the users and ask questions like a user. The questions would help you develop creative words that appeal to users' emotions.
3. Design thinking
You need a design-thinking mindset to actively contribute to any UX design project. The five non-linear iterative processes of empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping and testing are necessary to create a user-centered product. Remember, you are a writer with a designer’s mindset.
4. Grammar skills
Your means of communicating with users is through your words. So, you can only show your empathy and creativity through the words you write. Bad grammar will create confusion for users, as they try to understand how the product benefits them. So, grammar is fundamental to UX writing.
5. Basic knowledge of design tools
It is important that you have a basic knowledge of design tools since you are working with UX designers. It helps you have a seamless collaboration with designers. Also, having knowledge of design tools helps you know how to synchronize your writing with designs.
UX writing tools
Some of the popular tools for UX writing are:
Frontitude is a tool for managing your writing projects. It helps you create, and share your content with other team members
2. Hemmingway app
Hemmingway app helps to make your writing clear and concise. It highlights passive sentences, wrong usage of adverbs, and hard sentences. So, you are able to make necessary changes in your copy.
Thesaurus.com provides options on the best choice of words to use in your copy. You cannot afford to be ambiguous, or use the wrong verbiage in your copy. Thesaurus.com helps you remove ambiguity.
4. Figma/ Adobe
Figma is a designer’s tool, but it is important you have basic knowledge on how to use it for collaboration with other team members. You cannot miss out on collaboration because you are not a designer. Learn the basics of Figma or Adobe and you are good to go.
Miro is an awesome tool for brainstorming and collaboration. You can create stickers and put your ideas on them. Team members can see your ideas, and also make contributions. It helps to have a central place for all creative ideas.
UX writing is not just icing on the cake in the UX design process. It is a core requirement to create a desirable experience for users. Thus, UX writing goes beyond writing, it starts with following a design process of knowing your target users, and their pain points.
Then as designers solve the problems with their designs, you do it with your words, and words give meaning to designs. So, the importance of UX writing in design cannot be ignored. It is a good idea for a UX writer to have a fundamental knowledge of UX design, it helps to make the work easy. You can register here for the GoCreate Bootcamp, to learn something about UX design and your role as a UX writer.
You can read this article on UX design to have a fundamental knowledge of the UX design process. It would help you know how to work with UX designers in your writing process.