When I first started learning about UX writing, I came upon a bit of a shocking revelation.
As it turns out, UX writing isn’t actually all about writing. Writing doesn’t even make up 70% of it.
If I had to make a rough estimate, I’d say that UX writing is composed of 50% writing, and 50% UX.
To the seasoned UX writers out there, that probably doesn’t come as a shock. In fact, some would probably say that the balance should skew more in UX’s favour.
But for those of you new to UX writing — whether you’re wanting to embark on a new career, or whether you’re just wanting to learn the basics for your own product — this is an important point to make.
The writing part
Let’s start with the easy half: the writing.
I don’t mean that the writing is easy, I mean that this part of the job is pretty easy to understand.
This is the part where you sit down and right the actual copy that goes in the product or app.
The actual process can vary. Sometimes you’ll stick it all in a big, old spreadsheet. Other times you’ll edit your copy directly into screenshots or prototyping software like Sketch or Figma.
But ultimately what you’re doing is writing. Putting pen to paper. Or pixels to screen.
Everyone’s done this in one way or another. Everyone knows the actual technique of writing. You know, letters, words, punctuation, and all that.
This is generally what people think of when they think of UX writing. But, as I keep making pains to point out, that’s only half the story.
The UX part
UX is a fairly broad term. Within it you have research, design, testing, the list goes on. A large UX team will generally have specialists in each area. Smaller teams might have generalists who are responsible for all of it.
Now, you might think that UX writing is simply a niche area of UX. In fact, until recently it was seen as so niche that it wasn’t actually a job. Somebody else would just take that responsibility.
But as UX writing becomes more of a mainstay, the demand for UX writers is increasing. Yay for me.
The thing is, if all a UX writer can do is put in some text, it’s hard to justify hiring them. Everyone thinks they can write. It’s a constant uphill battle to convince stakeholders that while everyone knows how to form a sentence, not everyone knows how to form a good one.
Which is why it’s so important to understand that UX writers don’t just write. Hence the 50/50 split.
The UX part of UX writing kind of sandwiches the writing part. Some of it happens before, some of it after, and maybe a little bit sneaks in here and there.
Before you put pen to paper, it’s really important that you do your research. I’d actually say that it’s the most important part. If you’re thinking of hiring a UX writer and they don’t want to do any research, then maybe you should look elsewhere.
Equally, if you’re hiring a UX writer and don’t want them to spend time researching, then don’t expect good work.
The research a UX writer conducts is similar to that of a UX researcher. The only difference is that the writer is focused on the copy and communication aspect.
So, for example, a UX writer will listen to customer conversations and note down the words and phrases they use. They’ll learn how users speak, especially how they speak about the product.
This is because they ultimately want their UX copy to be on the same page as the users who are reading it.
After the writing part comes the testing. Again, this is often the domain of other UX people. Some would argue, in fact, that this isn’t the writer’s responsibility.
But I think a UX writer should see things through to the end. That means being held accountable for their UX copy.
A/B testing and user testing can help you see whether the copy is effective or not. This allows you to try out different phrases, or try no copy whatsoever. It means you can tweak as you go along, and ultimately end up with the best possible copy.
Why UX writers should embrace both sides
UX writing is still new. As such, not everyone is keen to invest in it. It’s far easier to pump money into UI designers, for example. You get a shiny looking product. Who doesn’t like that?
But while UX writing isn’t the most glamorous of jobs, it’s one of the quickest and most effective ways of improving a product.
If UX writers want to provide real, tangible value to the companies they work with, then they need to embrace both sides of UX writing.
I mean, after all, the job title literally contains both UX and writing. The clue’s in the name.
So remember, next time somebody asks you what a UX writer does, don’t just shrug and say “Erm, we write stuff?”