Every role in a software development project is invaluable. Even though software engineers have the skills that make them irreplaceable and absolutely fundamental for a product to come out, there are many other positions to be filled. An app is not only about what happens under the hood but also how user-oriented interfaces are. Therefore, the contribution of the people responsible for the UI/UX of an app cannot be played down or ignored. Among other things, technical or UX writing must be an inherent part of every UX strategy.
User experience writing is one rapidly growing new position that holds enormous career potential and, at the same time, has a low barrier of entry. In this article, we’re going to discuss what UX writing is and what principles to follow to create great copy for better UI/UX design of an application.
What is UX writing?
UX writing is the process of creating intuitive, delightful product experiences through writing copy to help users accomplish their goals. UX writers are members of collaborative UX teams that also include designers, researchers, content strategists, and engineers.
A User Experience writer creates copy or so-called microcopy that is employed in UI of an app to guide users when they interact with it. In other words, a UX writer is a middleman between a user and a digital product, who is responsible for settling this communication. The examples of copy and microcopy written by UX writers include small components of text like:
- Button labels
- Navigation menus
- Error messages
- Security notes
- Call-to-action messages
- Info copy
- On-screen help text
Figure 1. Vilmate’s 404 error page
A website or application is a product that needs to communicate lots of things to its users on its interface. So, the importance of UX copy and microcopy cannot be underestimated. All the messages must be clear to people so that they weren’t left wondering what they should do next. Unlike web copywriting, UX writers do not deliver the content per se but rather contribute to the overall experience with the given software.
Whose job is it to do UX writing?
Writing good copy is an art. Writing standout UX copy takes balancing between sticking to the main UX writing principles – such as making text clear, concise, and useful – and giving a unique voice to your brand. Thus, there must be a person or a team responsible for this part of the UI/UX design process alone.
A UX writer is a full-fledged member of a UX team. In the light of UX writers emerging as a critical role within the product design process, they on equal terms with others are expected to work hard towards creating great user experiences. The main focus of this team’s work must be on the user. It means everything the person sees on the screen while using an app has to be designed as if for him or her specifically. It must feel made for their convenience and satisfaction. UX essentially is the combination of such elements as content, style, layout, and structure. If one of them fails, the whole perception is spoilt, too. Accordingly, the path to the standout user experience cannot be imagined without the right, thoughtfully written content.
Every good piece of UX writing must have a content strategy behind it. This strategy, in turn, is developed early in the UI/UX design process by writers in cooperation with other design team members. The end goal of this brainstorming is to craft and develop all product messaging in such a way that this written content turns out to be in alignment with each specific hierarchical site structure. This means that UX writers, just like UX designers, have to work as researchers to be able, as a result, to help users achieve their goals with language.
So, this was an overview of UX writers’ duties. And what is their job in detail? Some of their key responsibilities include:
Creating and maintaining a style guide covering the company’s product
Following the designed style guides and established content design standards when writing copy
Knowing everything about the information architecture and navigation system of a digital product to present copy in a professional manner
Understanding key product strategy metrics, tracking them and being able to gain insights from them applied to data on the project
Developing and applying a long-term content strategy based on the product strategy metrics
Writing copy in a variety of different formats, from microcopy for buttons, error messages, notifications, etc. to long-form pieces
Partnering with UX designers and other departments, including R&D and C-level management, to align UX copy content with the project objectives
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the skills you have, and it doesn’t really matter what your title is. In doing the job of a UX writer, what matters most is the skills and the quality of content one can deliver applying those skills.
What makes UX writing good: Basic principles
User experience writing is not that simple as it may seem at first. For UX writing to be good, extra effort and knowledge are needed. Only then, the meaning of the UX copy will be so easy to grasp that the user won’t even notice that they are guided.
Sure enough, as the UX writing has only recently started to be treated seriously, the experts in the industry are still working on the best techniques and methods of developing the directions for effective UX. Yet, some of their discoveries are already ripe to be pinpointed and considered in more detail. These are some useful tips that are bound to help to ensure the UX copy works well.
1. Cooperate with developers and UI/UX designers.
Collaboration is key to the success of the UX copy. Unlike copywriters, UX writers cannot work alone. And if they do, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the outcome will have not much to do with the real product.
It must be admitted by every member of a project team, as well as by the management, that the words are no less important to user experience than the visual and interactive design. Usable, useful writing for products is a fully valid design practice that has a tangible impact on the overall user experience. Therefore, a UX writer does not just have to compose better copy, he or she must be a professional who helps a project team design better products.
UX writers cannot just guess user needs. Quality UX copywriting requires careful planning and user research done in cooperation with developers and UX designers. Words have the power to make any software human-centered. Therefore, they need just as much consideration as the program coding and product branding. Writing for UI also means designing. And to be good at it, one must know how to collaborate with the team. Mainly it is the case when testing the words that are being used and deliver clarity as a result of that collaboration.
UX writing should be not only usable but also creative. Although UX copy and microcopy are only short messages that are meant to convey some information, it doesn’t imply that this copy has to be boring. These messages can also be written with a hint of creativeness and excitement. Thus, for instance, an error message is a perfect candidate for inserting some witty yet polite jokes. Discussing those possibilities with other members of the UX team can help find the most proper ways to express creativity in one’s writing. If done well, it will ease the tension appearing from users’ mistreatment of the software. The right words can encourage them to continue interacting with an app and explain how to do it best.
Text and images have to complement each other. Apps would be an impractical confusion made of different shapes and figures without words. In the same manner, the plain text would be difficult to comprehend without the form, structure, and style given to it. Error messages, notifications, or onboarding instructions oftentimes convey essential information and have to be reacted upon accordingly. Therefore, it is a good idea to cooperate with designers to present them in an appealing form, supplement them with witty and attractive images. The only condition is that visual and linguistic components must be arranged so that to strengthen the message of the copy.
Despite writing for the user experience is not too formalized as a discipline yet, UX writers should be given the power to take a permanent seat at the design table. And this is an undoubtedly positive change that should be actually cheered on.
2. Speak the user’s language.
Not only designers, copywriters, and marketing specialists, but also UX writers must rely on customer personas to communicate in-app messages effectively. Customer personas are a good starting point for establishing the proper tone of voice for one’s copy.
A UX writer always has to be on the user’s side, be willing to help them navigate the product. UX writing is meant to guide the user, making it as natural as possible for him or her to accomplish the task at hand and reducing friction. People don’t want to be patronized and spend time and energy on learning how to use an app. They actually want to get on without surmounting obstacles in the middle of a task they wish to accomplish.
Therefore, if you want to create useful copy, it is your responsibility to learn as much as possible about the context and the target audience to start speaking the user’s language. You need to understand where users need help and provide it through UX writing. Like any other copy content, it should be based on the upfront user research aimed at learning the target audience. Knowing their peculiarities, you can conclude how to compose hints so that they sound in the most comprehensible way for users.
3. Assist users in achieving their goals.
Not only should one look at the product from the customer’s perspective to be able to speak the same language as they do, but also a UX writer should use specific incentives for microcopy to be helpful.
UX writers’ mission is to make digital interfaces easy to use, so they should approach their product’s content with care, keeping every aspect of it in mind at all times. Microcopy is the component of the product design that needs consideration both as a whole and in detail to be genuinely user-oriented and unique. Only if the content is helpful, one can say the whole web experience is satisfying, too. And it has to be factored into all aspects of the UX, including writing. People need to see content that is straightforwardly addressed particularly to them, that clearly conveys a message, that is structured logically and is intuitively easy to navigate.
Therefore, again, instead of guessing users’ needs, research, and plan your UX content wisely. It is the only way to know what users want to achieve using your digital product and how they want to do that. Otherwise, ignoring this simple rule, a business will stand a risk to lose more money later on.
4. Put forward hypotheses and conduct A/B testing.
A/B testing is what will provide a solid foundation for the user research mentioned above. As a rule of thumb, a UX team needs to research and test its design early and often. As UX copy is an integral part of the product, it must be tested, too.
A/B testing compares the performance of a software product by juxtaposing option A and option B. There are some questions that are crucial to ask and give answers to in regard to UX writing during A/B testing:
- Is user experience writing representative of what people want to do?
- Is the action component of microcopy strategic?
- Is the copy not too sales-driven?
- Does it feel natural for the user to read and absorb?
- Does the UX writing give people control over the interface?
- Does your copy add value to the overall experience?
- How can the words one is designing be misused?
- Are the words being used in an experience candid?
- Are these words inclusive?
- Are the words one uses in an app or website designed to earn trust from users?
Formulate hypotheses and conduct A/B testing to see how it goes. It takes a risk, but testing multiple variants of copy on various users will help better design your product. Even if you are a hundred percent positive that you are an expert in writing beautiful pieces, they may not work in a given context. So, user testing will never hurt. If there is no possibility to test the copy on the target audience, ask co-workers or friends to volunteer and comment on what they think and feel about it.
5. Present the main ideas first.
The UX copy is a design element. The arrangement of those elements matters just as much as the content. In other words, the effect that the copy will have on users depends heavily on its visual presentation. The UX team has to address the issue and try to find the design composition that will look good and allow obtaining the results required for the product to be considered successful.
Sometimes, for a UX writer, it means the text volume reduction, or more rarely volume increase, for the sake of appealing layout. Moreover, the count of words left must also be structured in a particular way. A UX writer has to present the main ideas first. And there are some techniques that may help overcome those volume and prioritization constraints. Regardless of whether the given limitations allow for a few words, a few sentences, or a few paragraphs, it is the context that can provide users with insight into what to expect or do next. Context allows people to figure out what they’re supposed to do. Well-crafted microcopy relies on the context and straightforward, clear structure of a text to empower the app users to trust the product or brand.
6. Be concise and use simpler sentences.
Short and simple sentences make copy visually easier to comprehend. However, the text that sounds natural is oftentimes not as easy to write. The concise writing is like poetry and needs careful handling of words.
Adequate UX writing that works as intended has to be concise and consistent. Do not force your users to guess and interpret what you want to say.
The copy has to be simple – less is more. Only then, users will be able to interact with the software product intuitively. UX writing that is simple guides users without making them feel concerned or lost. Less is more in the case with UX writing, and it always must be kept straight to the point. Conciseness, intuitiveness, and brevity must be fundamental principles of your UX copywriting.
Don’t overcomplicate your vocabulary. As it was repeatedly emphasized, clarity and simplicity are integral to effective UX writing. For copy to be easy to perceive, not only should it be well-structured but also, one had better avoid using complicated words. The words that are written for user interfaces work better when they are clear and are utilized to make up laconic phrases.
Write short and cut it further down. Microcopy has a micro- part in it for a particular reason, not by coincidence. UX texts have to be small in volume but still manage to make sense to people whom they guide. They do not necessarily have to be super original and draw all the attention. Instead, they have to gently guide from one point to another. Besides, it’s more usable to show than tell, so make your texts short so that they efficiently support the visual part.
7. Be polite and respectful of your users.
The language that is used in UX copy can be rated not only on conciseness or wordiness. How polite the tone of your text is also critical for earning the audience’s trust. Even if you make a joke, which is encouraged when it comes to establishing a brand’s voice, this joke must be polite, not intimidating to anyone, and comprehensible. In order to build trust, make double-sure that your terminology is consistent, and the tone of your messages is appropriate to the situation.
Inconsistent language in your product’s copy, as well as inappropriate tone, pose a risk of disrupting the flow of the user journey. People who use your software can be your present or prospective customers, so it is a bad idea to make them used to inconsistency. There mustn’t be any trace of disrespect of your users or disregard of their needs. Surprisingly, both of them can be expressed in microcopy. Instead, build trust by making your UX copy kind and polite. To be, at times, frustrated is okay for users even when all the details were presumably taken care of by a software development team. So, support them when they need it, help them out with some kind words, and that may contribute to the foundation of customer loyalty and long-term relationships.
To sum up, UX writing is essential for any software product. But unlike many established career paths, writing for user interfaces is still developing and absorbs all the good the community has to offer. Therefore, UX writing methodologies are growing at an accelerating pace, and writers have to remain proactive and curious to stay abreast of all those developments.
Our post was meant to give a quick overview of who a UX designer is and what principles he or she should follow to succeed in their craft and be able to contribute to the product’s quality-building. Our findings suggest chances that UX writers will remain one of those who play a critical role in the company’s success are solid. Keep that in mind and try looking at UX writing in various software products from a different perspective now, there’s bound to be some food for thought.
© 2020, Vilmate LLC
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