UX writing: the almost invisible super-hero

February 2023

Not so long ago, if you introduced yourself as a UX writer you’d probably be met with a puzzled expression. Nowadays, you’re more likely to be met with a generous offer of employment. That’s because any business that fails to put enough thought into UX content does so at their peril. The copy on a website, app or program, even when it’s just a tiny piece of microcopy, can make or break the user experience.

What is UX writing?

UX copy is, in simple terms, the text you see in a user interface. It helps the user navigate and interact with a product and guides them towards their goal, whether that’s booking a flight, filing their tax return or buying some clothes.

It often refers to the snippets of copy you see inside buttons, CTAs, pop-ups, notifications and so on. But everything the customer reads, from the about page to the check-out page, from error messages to sign-up forms, affects how they experience a brand, which means every word at every touchpoint has to be carefully considered with the user’s needs in mind.

Why is UX writing important?

Research shows that, on average, every $1 invested in UX brings $100 in return. That’s an ROI of 9,900%. And 80% of customers say they’re willing to pay more for better customer experience while 70% of customers abandon purchases because of bad user experience. 

And, while images are useful, it’s the words (sorry, designers) that help users navigate through a product. If your product has hard-to-follow instructions, lots of jargon, unclear copy and confusing CTAs, the user might just give up trying to use it, and you might lose a customer.

Good UX copy, on the other hand, can strengthen a brand’s voice, re-enforce messaging and build trust. It can delight the customer, or just make boring tasks less boring.

So, focusing on the UX of writing benefits everyone. It helps meet your business goals and makes the customer’s life easier. Now let’s talk about how to do it.

Five commandments of UX copywriting

1.Be empathetic

A UX writer has to put themselves in the shoes of the user. They empathise with and understand not only the user’s needs but also their emotions.

While the user is waiting for a screen to load, for example, a simple message such as “one moment please…” helps them be patient. And if they’ve done something daunting, such as hitting ‘send’ on a huge mailout, a reassuring “Hoorah! Job done” will make it less scary. (It’s also a chance to squeeze in some brand personality and voice.)  

2.Do plenty of research

Good UX writing minimizes doubts and answers questions before the user asks them. But how do you know what those questions or doubts will be? Through research and user testing.

Part of the UX writer’s job is to carry out research such as conversation mining, where you learn to speak the target audience’s language by hanging out in their online communities. And by testing your copy in live screens in front of users, you’ll know how well it’s doing its job.

3.Do it early, do it with a designer and don’t use ‘lorem ipsum’

Start the UX writing early in the process, and work in tandem with a designer. Designing wireframes full of fake content is asking for trouble, because without content and context you’ll probably end up having to redesign it all later. Also, the earlier the copy gets into the design, the more thoroughly it can be user-tested.

4.Be clear, concise and conversational

Simple, familiar words rather than jargon, and short, simple phrases generally work better in UX copy. It doesn’t mean less is always more, however – sometimes a full sentence is more helpful than one word. But clarity is key, and so is conversational language. It’s easier to understand when it’s a human that’s speaking rather than a robot. Humour and personality also helps (but only when it’s appropriate and never at the expense of clarity).

5.Do it again and again

Finally, revisit your content often. That way you can check that it still meets its goals and whether those goals are still valid. It also keeps your product or website fresh and in working order, it keeps the customer happy and, of course, it keeps UX writers off the streets and in gainful employment.

Making sure all your content is as user-friendly as can be is a win-win, and though it might not be obvious, UX writing really is the hard-working superhero of your content strategy.

Illustration: Magdalena Wilk