What is UX writing?

Nick Harland
July 2022

UX writing is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, but what the hell is it? We try to define it, give some examples and compare it with copywriting for you.

Industries are always adapting and changing to suit the needs of the market, and copywriting is no different. There has been a clear trend in recent years towards more specialist roles within copywriting. You'll now find B2B copywriters, technical copywriters, healthcare copywriters, landing page copywriters - and pretty much everything in between. The growth of UX writing is another example of this.

UX writing is the practice of writing copy for a digital product such as a website or app. UX writers are responsible for improving user experience through better copy. Specifically they work on the copy for things like buttons, menus and error messages.

The overall aim of UX writing is to make it easier for the user to navigate through a digital product. Here's an example or two to illustrate what that means in practice.

Examples of UX writing

OK, so this example might be a bit extreme, since we could never imagine a company actually using this kinda wording within an app. But it's a good way nevertheless of showing you the things that a UX writer would do to improve user experience.

Let's say an e-commerce company wants to make it easier for customers to complete a purchase on their app. To do this, they hire a UX writer to rewrite every step of the checkout process. Here's what the current checkout screen looks like this:

At first glance, a UX writer would probably look at this and decide two things. Firstly, the wording of the question could confuse users. Secondly, there are too many options. Let’s see what they would do to improve it.

Now, the question that users are presented with is much clearer and easy to understand. But there are still a lot of options. In general in UX writing, the fewer options the better. Let's make a change.

There’s no need to have two options for debit card and credit card, so we’ve unified the two and just used a ‘Card’ option here. Is there anything else we can do as a UX writer to simplify this checkout process?

A quick bit of research reveals that the two most popular payment methods for UK consumers, by far, are PayPal and card. So let’s remove the bank transfer option. Instead, we can hide that in a separate screen that might also contain options for things like Google Pay and Apple Pay.

So we've managed to make the question much clearer and also reduced the number of options from four to two. The idea is that those changes will result in an improved user experience and, hopefully, more checkouts via the app.

Here are some other examples of UX writing:

  • Error messages, e.g. ‘Card payment failed!’
  • Success messages, e.g. ‘Card payment processed!’
  • Button text, e.g. ‘Pay By Card’
  • Navigational messages e.g. ‘Click the green button to get started’

In essence, UX writing is all about simplifying the user journey through language.

UX writing vs copywriting vs content writing

This brings us on to the next question: how is UX writing different from copywriting and content writing? At first glance they’re all very similar. They're all concerned with language, all of them work within businesses and they - on paper at least - are commercially-focused. Here are some of the main differences (and similarities) between them.

ux writing vs copywriting

Of course, there are some occasions where these responsibilities overlap. Take the example we outlined earlier, where the UX writer was asked to simplify the checkout process of an e-commerce company. In this case, the UX writer was responsible for both improving the user experience and increasing sales, because an improved user experience in the checkout would (theoretically) lead to more sales.

There’s also some overlap between UX writing and content writing. The objective of both is to guide or inform the user rather than sell to them, so let’s take the example of a help article within an app. This would aim to guide the user through the digital product, but also inform them about it. It could quite easily be published in the form of a blog post, which would then fall under the umbrella of content writing.

Lots of terms, lots of confusion. But the table above illustrates the basic differences between these three similar disciplines.

Skills required of a UX writer

Just like a copywriter needs to be able to do more than write, so does a UX writer. They tend to work in a totally different department to copywriters, with a different set of responsibilities, so they require a different set of skills. They should have some knowledge of at least some of the following areas:

  • User research. UX writers must be able to research the behaviour of a product’s users. They must understand who they are, what they do and why they do it.
  • User experience. They should also know about the principles of user experience, what a good user experience is and how to design one. Whilst they’re not actually a designer, they’ll be working closely with designers, so they need an understanding of what they do and how their work impacts on user experience.
  • Product design. In an ideal world, a UX writer will be embedded within the design team from the start of a project. They should understand the components of product design and how their work impacts the product as a whole.
  • Web design. Similarly, if a UX writer is working on a website, they must be aware of what makes a good website and the principles of good web design.
  • Working in a team. Copywriters and content writers tend to be lone wolves and can easily work on their own all week. UX writers, however, must work far more closely with the product design team, researchers and designers. 

Who would hire a UX writer?

OK, we didn’t mean this question as: ‘Who in their RIGHT MIND would hire a UX writer!?’ It’s more like, ‘Which types of companies would hire a UX writer?’ We now realise that the heading for this section should have been the latter of those two options, but we’re far too deep in this to turn back now. On we go.

Here are a few examples of companies who may want to hire a UX writer.

  • An online clothes retailer that wants to simplify their checkout process
  • A mental health support app that wants to improve the navigability and user experience of the app
  • A company that offers guided road trips across the UK via their app. They want to make it easier for users to follow the road trip directions.
  • A mortgage broker that wants to simplify their application process
  • A bank that wants to make it easier for their customers to transfer money via their app

In short, anything digital is in contention for UX writing.

It’s worth learning about UX writing because it’s a rapidly-growing industry that’s only going to get bigger. The likes of Google, Apple and Uber all understand the importance of UX writers, and so employ teams of them within their companies. It’s another strand of writing that has developed in recent years, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Nick Harland