UX Writing – what exactly is that?


The words on the user interface - most users don't even pay attention to them. They use apps and websites intuitively. That's how it should be, because someone else has already made sure that users have a smooth experience and reach their goal quickly. That someone usually has the job title "UX Writer" and you can find out what exactly there is to consider in this blog article.

 

Carina Glinik

Senior UX Writer

In a narrower sense, UX writing is the process of writing so-called "UX copy": buttons, input fields, step-by-step instructions, error messages, notifications, warnings, forms, and much more. All the written words that can be found on the user interface of apps or websites.

"Are you still quickly writing the UX Copy." We UX writers often hear sentences like this. But quickly adding the words for buttons, input fields, and instructions is not what UX Writing is all about. You don't need a UX specialist to label fields without grammar and spelling errors. Rather, UX writing is about communication that gives users orientation when using the application and, incidentally, conveys the brand personality.

In the broader sense, therefore, there are a few more tasks for the UX writer in addition to the actual writing.

Image Source: Mindnow
Example: LoFi wireframes in Whimsical. This was a very early design for Cornèrcard.

The many tasks in UX Writing - an introduction

To explain to family, friends, clients, or new colleagues what a UX Writer does, I often make it easy. I show off my work on my (fortunately quite large) screen. One look at the many mobile screens and a few explanations about how they are connected and it becomes clear: It's all about user flows.

For example, if the user clicks on "forgot password" on one screen, the flow continues to the "password reset" screen. Each possible click leads to a new screen and the words that are there (like "Enter your new password") are what the UX writer (that's me!) wrote there.

Image Source: Carina Glinik
My workstation - large screen and a decent keyboard are part of the basic equipment of a UX Writer.

Some flows are more complex than forgetting passwords, such as onboarding or payment checkouts. Besides, typing words in a wireframe doesn't make a UX writer. After all, a lot has already happened in the background before it even gets to that point.

It starts with UX research

Long before the first word is even written, a lot of research has already been done. To ensure that the texts that go onto the screens are optimally tailored to the needs of the users, these needs must first be found out and understood. So precisely, in fact, that there is a separate discipline for this in UX design: UX Research.

As a UX writer at mindnow, I have the pleasure of having our own UX researchers on the team for this purpose. This is great, because the UX researchers can fully concentrate on what makes users tick, what they need and what frustrates them. User interviews and user tests are extremely important at the beginning of the development of a digital product and must also be continued on an ongoing basis.

Sounds like a lot of work? It is! Yet, in practice, this important as well as extensive task is often co-done by the UX Writer or UX Designer. The smaller the team, the more tasks a single person has to take on. Fortunately, this is not the case with us as an agency and UX Writer, UX Researcher and UX Designer are different people with the corresponding know-how.

Quite a lot of work! We had once pitched the process on this slide - and got the order.

Wherever the information about users comes from - whether it's from a colleague, a customer, or researched yourself - the results of UX Research are the cornerstone of good UX Copy.

The Voice and Tone Workshop

At the latest when the personas have been established through UX Research, it's time to take a closer look at your own brand personality.

UX writers always write for two audiences with two different goals. This is the nature of digital products, where there are usually two parties communicating with each other - the users and the organization behind the product. These two need to be connected. That's why I always divide the voice-and-tone workshops I conduct for our clients into 3 parts:

  1. The users - ideally just bringing the existing user research to mind.

  2. The organization - practical exercises on brand personality

  3. Communication - clarifying how these two parties communicate with each other, including tone of voice in different situations.

At the end of the workshop, I put the most important points into a handout that the whole team, including the UX designer, can use for orientation.

Pro-tip: The nicest handout is no good if no one ever looks at it again. So make sure it's easy to find and doesn't disappear in a subfolder somewhere.

Image Source: Carina Glinik
Example: a slide from an exercise in a Voice and Tone workshop with a client.

UX Wireframes - LoFi, HiFi & Teamwork

With the UX wireframes, we are now at the point that is indisputably and also in the closest sense part of UX writing: the buttons, the input fields, the step-by-step instructions and so on. All these text elements have already been arranged by the UX designer while thinking through and drafting the user flow and inserting placeholder copy. The placeholders are sometimes very helpful (like "Here's the explanation of why the user needs to photograph their ID"), sometimes less so ("Lorem Ipsum"). If it's not clear what purpose the placeholders are supposed to serve, I consult with the product owner. Ability to work in a team - also an important skill as a UX Writer.

Depending on how early or late I get involved in the project as a UX Writer, I replace the placeholders with "real" UX copy either in the low-fidelity wireframes (e.g., with Whimsical) or in the high-fidelity wireframes (e.g., with Figma). It's best to do both - work with UX Copy early in the low-fidelity wireframes and adjust again in the high-fidelity design.

The earlier someone thinks about the wording and questions the structure or the (possibly missing) existence of text fields, the better. With LoFi wireframes, changes are much easier to implement and the UX writer can get more involved - a benefit that is unfortunately often foregone in practice. While this is not a problem with simple websites, it becomes more critical the more complex the digital application.

Example: High-fidelity wireframes in Figma.

In my almost 3 years as a UX Writer at Mindnow, I've already worked on a wide range of UX projects. From early drafts in Whimsical to "are you still quickly writing the UX Copy" at the end of the project, everything was there. Sure, man hours cost something and if the UX Writer is involved from the beginning, it will be more. But the user experience will be better and I am convinced that this investment will pay off.

Editing is more than correcting errors

Okay, let's say a project has to go over on the thinnest of margins ever. No UX research, no voice-and-tone guidelines, and UX writing only in UI design. This app probably won't break any download records, but it might be usable. If it really must be only the bare minimum imaginable, then at least get a UX writer on board for editing.

Editing is the iteration of UX copy where you make sure it meets its goals. Sure, you should check spelling and grammar errors, too. But that happens along the way. Editing in the sense of UX Writing means ensuring the following when replacing placeholders:

  • Clarity: The UX Copy is clear and understandable for users. They always know what they need to do to get where they want to go.

  • Conciseness: Users are not here to read. The ideal length: as little as possible, as much as necessary.

  • Dialog: In the "conversation" between the user and the application, the brand personality comes out.

Of course, the last point can only be checked if a brand personality was defined in the first place, e.g. in the Voice-and-Tone workshop.

In any case, editing should be done in the UX wireframes and not in separate tools. This is the only way to develop a sense for arrangement, prominence, and appropriate text lengths. UX writing is part of UX design and should go hand in hand with it.

Hooray! Now the UX Copy is ready and I'm going home!

Hahaha, of course not. Usually the whole thing goes into translation next. Especially in Switzerland, this is the case with almost every application, especially since 3 official languages + English are common here. Besides, there is then the measurement of success.

UX writers never run out of work

I work completely remotely, but even otherwise there would still be no going home even after the success measurement. Now the improvements for the digital product begin. Market conditions can change quickly and you have to constantly adapt digital products. Here we are back to UX Research, based on which UX Copy should be written as well as continuously adapted.

The good news for us UX writers is: More and more organizations are recognizing the value of good UX Copy and what a difference it makes when used strategically. UX writers bring knowledge and best practices that can add the icing on the cake to a product, and the word is starting to spread.

UX Writing and Switzerland

In Switzerland, too, word of UX Writing is spreading more and more. We notice this when we talk to (potential) customers. I often have the feeling that everyone already knows everything in detail. But as is so often the case in life, you can't take your own bubble as representative of the general public.

A look at Google Trends (a tool I use a lot) suggests that in Switzerland you're still more likely to pass as an early adopter if you know about UX writing - what an opportunity!

Unfortunately, Google does not have any data for the search term "ux writer" - too few searches in Switzerland.

In contrast to Germany, people in Switzerland don't seem to be Googling about UX writing all that much yet. Austria detto. But there are still many great blog articles about UX Writing.

Of course, feel free to contact me directly if you still have a question about UX Writing.


Any questions? I look forward to your message!
Carina Glinik·Senior UX Writer
Project·Cornèrcard Redesign
How Cornèrcard positioned itself as a technological leader in the field of credit cards
Expertise
Microcopy: Small text with big effect
Carina GlinikSenior UX Writer