Understanding the Role of the UX Writer

By Karina Margit Erdelyi

The world of UX is expanding exponentially — and UX writing is on for the ride. The demand for digital-first writers in tech is growing at a meteoric rate. But what exactly does a UX writer do?

Welcome to the radical, fast-expanding world of UX (or user experience), which refers to any interaction a person has with a product or service.

A significant component of a person’s experience is the text a user encounters — known as UX copy. UX copy is produced by UX writers, a position whose importance is on the rise.

UX writers create content that guides the user on their journey with the product to achieve their goal. Sounds a bit existential, but what it really means is that UX writing tells a user what to do, and presents their options to them straightforwardly, which minimizes confusion and streamlines the process.

But UX writers do more than just write — they speak directly to consumers with their copy, which means a large part of their role is understanding and knowing how to best communicate with the user base.

We’re talking about everything from word choice, when and how copy appears, instructions, error messages, forms, basic structures of processes (like forms), and anything else that has to do with text. All of these components serve a strategic purpose to solve user problems and craft the optimal user experience.

UX WRITING IS NOT COPYWRITING

Copywriting refers to text crafted to advertise and sell a product. Copywriters often use clever language to get people’s attention and tell an engaging product story. Their goal is to get you to think about their product as much as possible.

UX writers, on the other hand, want to make you think as little as possible. They use straightforward, conversational language to create an intuitive experience. Distracting language can act as a road bump, knocking users off-course. While a copywriter’s job is to convince you to buy something and attract new customers, a UX writer works to keep existing customers by creating a seamless (and yes, painless) experience for them.

Copywriters transitioning to UX writing face a similar challenge — instead of creating texts that have the sole purpose of selling a product, they now have to guide users through a product using natural, conversational language.

Beyond writing texts found in digital interfaces, UX writers[MR1]  imbue products with personality through careful use of voice and tone.  Part of the process is creating a style guide that lays out how the product should ‘speak’ and ‘behave’ for the team. The goal is to keep the product voice consistent no matter who writes for it.

WHAT DOES A UX WRITER DO?

UX writers collaborate closely with UX/UI designers and UX researchers to develop a simple, efficient, and satisfying experience for the user — heroically vanquishing confusion and uncertainty.

Design Thinking
“But writing isn’t design,” you might be thinking. Well, think again. UX writers are key to the design process and actively help to shape overall UX — they just do it with words instead of graphics.

Design thinking is the process by which many companies are developing new products. The central tenet of this approach? Craft the user experience around understanding and empathy for the end-user. How will someone interact with the product? Where might a person get confused? The cornerstone of successful UX writing is to focus on how a user will interact with the product. But how do UX writers make the magic happen?

User Research
The research phase is where user needs, pain points, behaviors, and goals are mapped — which is how a UX writer gets to know their users. Data is transformed into actionable information and insights after being gathering via surveys, data-mining, focus groups, or other research methods. One popular process of analyzing user data is building personas or profiles of theoretical customers based on your target user base that examines their personality, behaviors, and motivations. When you know who you’re talking to, you can better speak their language.

Microcopy
Button labels, error messages, notifications, help texts, and CTAs (calls to action) all fall under the category of microcopy, which makes up a lot of the work that a UX writer does. A quippy, well-crafted 404 error message can turn a potential panic moment into a lighthearted and informational redirect. Google has set principles for effective microcopy: clear, concise, and useful.

Developing a Style Guide
UX copy essentially acts as the voice of a brand or product, and you want this voice to be consistent across platforms and media. UX writers need to fully understand the voice and style to effectively share it with other content creators who write copy for the organization.

UX WRITING PRINCIPLES

UX writing is a style all on its own. A lot of traditional writing adages do not apply. Here are some basic principles for good UX writing.

Engaging
You want to draw the user in and keep them engaged. The best way to win the engagement game is to make the process to the end goal as straightforward as possible. Ensure each step is well-defined and active — tell the user what they should do, not what they shouldn’t. There’s a fine line between being clear and telling the user too much — that can be intimidating and cause users to abandon their engagement.

Encouraging
When people feel encouraged, they have a better experience. People can become disgruntled and frustrated when they think they’ve done something wrong — so avoid language that implies that they have. If there is an error, offer potential solutions, such as links to other pages on the site.

Human-centered
The user is essentially in a conversation with the product, so you want to write with that in mind. Use natural, conversational language — and avoid jargon. The goal is to be understood and guide the user through the interface. The first question when making any choice should always be: “Does this help the user?

YOU NEED THESE ATTRIBUTES AND CHARACTERISTICS TO SUCCEED AT BEING A UX WRITER

Unsurprisingly, writing and editing skills are necessary to thrive as a UX writer. But, possibly even more important than that is a user-centered approach to the design process. Understanding how people think and process information will set you up for success as a UX writer.

Many companies are hiring UX writers right now, and they’re looking for folks with empathy and curiosity, who are creative problem-solvers and critical thinkers. Additionally, strong collaborative and communication skills make you a valuable contributor to any UX development team.

QUALIFICATIONS

A UX writer’s career path isn’t necessarily the most straightforward, mainly because this field is so new. While a lot of folks come in with a copywriting or design background, that isn’t necessary. Strong writing skills and understanding of design thinking will give you a strong foundation going into an interview.

There are many resources and courses available for folks that are interested in diving into the field of UX writing. If you think it might be for you, check this out.

SALARY

The average salary for a UX writer varies across the United States. According to Glassdoor, the national average is $85,277. In NYC, it ranges from $65,000 on the low end to $119,000 on the high end, while salaries in San Francisco range from $78,000 to $130,000.


About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist — Karina writes, edits, and produces compelling content across multiple platforms — including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties.