8 Ways to Ace Your UX Writing

Kindra CooperKindra Cooper | 8 minute read | April 28, 2021
ux writing tips

In this article

UX writing is the practice of creating user interface (UI) copy that guides users within a digital product. The purpose of UX writing is to provide a smooth and intuitive user experience while minimizing friction. Friction occurs when an interface is confusing, important items are hard to find, or the user isn’t sure what to do next. Effective UX writing front-loads the most important information according to user intent, discloses information in a logical, progressive manner so as not to overwhelm the user, and provides unambiguous instructions to help users complete tasks.

UX writer is responsible for ensuring that the user has the best experience when using their interface and that the content is easy to follow. They assume a core role on the product development and design team because of the importance of UX writing in retaining users and improving product usability. When it comes to SaaS businesses, the relationship is clear between good UI design (and UX writing) and the company’s bottom line. With software as their core product, these companies need to provide an interface that is easy to use and has all the features users are looking for.

However, even non-tech companies need to implement UX writing best practices. For example, while a financial institution’s main product isn’t software-related, most banks enable customers to manage their finances via a mobile app or website. With more and more consumers electing to shop and perform other transactions online, such as paying bills, companies are trying to differentiate by providing an exceptional digital experience—which is where UX writers come in.

UX writers create microcopy that lives on websites, mobile apps, IoT devices, chatbots and more. Microcopy for the user interface includes landing page text, buttons, error messages, menu labels, security notes, terms, and conditions, as well as instructions on product usage. Unlike marketing copy, which is designed to convert leads into customers, UI copy is simply meant to facilitate the user flow (the path taken by a user towards a particular outcome) in a logical, intuitive manner.

Related Read: What Does a UX Designer Do?

What Skills Are Required to Learn UX Writing?

Writing ability doesn’t automatically qualify you for a UX writing job. UX writers have a unique skill set that blends UX design sensibilities and brand strategy with writing skills. The reason is that UX writers must show empathy for the user while communicating using the brand’s authentic voice. Even technical writers or those with journalism or copywriting background need to learn UX writing fundamentals before entering the field.

  • Familiarity with the overall UX design process, especially UX research. UX writers must understand the unique purpose of UI text, which is distinct from marketing copy or user documentation. They also need to fully embody their role as user advocates who are responsible for contesting any features or designs that might derail the user experience. Finally, UX writers need to know how to interpret user research and use it to inform their own writing.
  • An understanding of UX design deliverables. UX writers will be involved in mocking up UX design deliverables throughout the entire design process, from sketches to high-fidelity prototypes. They will also be expected to run QA tests before the final product is shipped to customers.
  • Knowledge of design and prototyping tools like Sketch or Figma. UX writers are advised to write and edit directly in design tools rather than using a word processor. Doing so enables them to work within the actual space constraints of the interface and approximate how the UX copy will behave in the final product.
  • Ability to use A/B testing software. Typically, the UX writing process involves creating numerous copy options for one wireframe, button or feature, and performing A/B tests with users to see which versions perform best and which ones cause confusion. UX writers may need to know how to administer A/B tests, interpret feedback and use these insights to iterate microcopy.
  • Familiarity with agile methodologies and the product development process. Most UX writers are involved in the entire product development process, so it’s essential that they understand agile methodologies in order to participate in design sprints, communicate with members of the product team, and stay on the same page.
  • An understanding of content strategy and management. Managing the content production process is a key part of UX writing. A content strategy helps UX writers stay on track with production timelines and communicate their design decisions to other team members. Most importantly, a content plan contains a style guide, user personas, and tone of voice guidelines so UX writers can stay on-brand.

8 Ways to Ace Your UX Writing

Follow these eight tips and tricks below to become a UX writing god in no time.

1. Know Your Audience

Knowing the user is the number-one component of good UX writing. UX writers create copy for users with various educational backgrounds, literacy levels, language proficiency, and tech-savvy. On top of that, each user persona has its own goals and motivations. UX writers must also be able to put themselves in their users’ shoes and understand things like what are the user’s top objectives? What navigation buttons would they find most useful, and where should they be placed? What prior knowledge does the user already have? What aspects of the interface might a first-time user find confusing, and how can the interface be personalized for returning users? UX writers must be able to optimize content for user intent.

2. Stick to a Consistent Tone

Just like marketing copy, interface copy must be consistent with the brand’s tone of voice. The brand voice reveals everything about a brand’s DNA, including its corporate culture, values, attitude, and purpose. Brands that don’t normally use humor shouldn’t attempt to do so in their microcopy; rather, they should emphasize brevity and clarity, while more laidback brands can take some liberties. UX writers must pay attention to the connotations of words. Use consistent naming conventions and terminology. For example, using the words “pay” and “check out” interchangeably can lead to confusion for non-native English speakers. Also, don’t mix up title case and sentence case for headings and subheadings.

3. Make Your Content Easy to Read

Avoid big chunks of text and long, multisyllabic words when you can substitute a shorter synonym. For example, “use” is snappier than “utilize.” The optimal sentence length for body text is 50-75 characters, including spaces. If a line of text is too long, the reader will have trouble focusing on it. Remember that the eye travels in an ‘F’ formation when scanning a web page, so concentrate the most important information towards the top of the page on the left-hand side. Whenever numbers are involved, use numerals—they will stand out from the words. Instead of dates, use phrases like “today,” “tomorrow” or “two months from now.” Focus on the economy; eliminate all unnecessary words. “This offer expires in two days” can be shortened to “Expires in 2 days.”

4. Create Well-Organized Content

Information architecture is the practice of organizing, structuring, and labeling content in a logical, consistent manner. The goal is to help users find information and complete tasks. According to UX design guru Peter Morville, the purpose of IA is to tell users where they are, what they’ve found, what’s around, and what to expect. This applies to organization schemes (how you categorize and structure information), labeling systems (how you represent information), navigation systems (how users move through information), and search systems (how users look for information). Also, consider that some first-time website visitors might not enter through the homepage, so you might need to add a pop-up or install a chatbot to help them get situated. Navigation buttons should be organized from most popular to least popular options so users can easily find what they need. Finally, pay attention to the layout of the text. Margins, spacing, sentence length, subheadings, and fonts all impact the user’s ability to read and retain the information.

5. Ensure Your Content Is Discoverable

A good UX writer understands how users want to see information grouped and sorted. In UX design, discoverability defines the ease with which users can find new content or features within a product. Content discoverability directly affects the user’s ability to achieve a task. Note the difference between findability and discoverability: the former refers to the ease with which users can find features and content they are already familiar with, while the latter refers to the ability for users to encounter new content or functionality of which they weren’t previously aware.

To optimize for discoverability, design interfaces that closely follow universal standards. For example, the playback toolbar on most music streaming platforms look almost identical, and most mobile websites use a “hamburger” menu to hide additional menu options. Familiar design elements like universally recognized icons make users feel more confident about exploring a new interface. Subtle animated effects can also guide users towards new features. Where possible, reduce the total number of options and always eliminate visual clutter.

6. Consider Your Content Evergreen

UX content is meant for longevity. In other words, the technical information should remain valid to users years down the line, even after new product updates are shipped. Evergreen content is SEO-optimized stays relevant to users over a long period of time. The opposite of evergreen content is time-sensitive content, such as a blog post about a current event. User documentation, knowledge articles, and landing pages should be written with longevity in mind.

7. Use Repetition Wisely

In UX design, repetition means repeating a single element multiple times in a design. Repetition is useful in web and mobile app design. For example, a business logo is typically repeated on every page in the same place. Consistency via shapes, colors, textures, icons, and fonts sets the user at ease. Repetition also applies to the terminology and messaging you use. Buttons, labels, and menu items should match up. If one call-to-action button says ‘Start free trial’ while other CTAs say ‘Try a free demo’ this could cause confusion even if they mean the same thing.

8. Learn How to Express Your Brand Through Writing

A brand’s tone and voice refer to how you express your company’s character through every customer touchpoint. It’s about how you sound, the words you use, and the atmosphere you create with your writing. Ideally, a strong brand voice makes the company sound more human, builds trust with users, and expresses core brand values. Some brands use more “official” language, others are more casual. Whichever it is, it’s best to stick with the organization’s prevailing tone when it comes to microcopy, unless the product you’re writing for is meant for a slightly different audience. For example, Marcus by Goldman Sachs is a mobile banking app designed for millennials—a slightly different audience than its core clientele—and uses colorful visuals, a modern-looking font, and less financial jargon than the core Goldman Sachs product.

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Kindra Cooper

About Kindra Cooper

Kindra Cooper is a content writer at Springboard. She has worked as a journalist and content marketer in the US and Indonesia, covering everything from business and architecture to politics and the arts.