Does becoming a UX writer kinda feel like you're breaking into an exclusive club?
If it does, I get it.
It’s a very specialized type of writing, and UX writing can feel like there's a lot to get up to speed on and a lot of people already up to speed.
Well, as someone on the “inside,” I'm here to tell you there's no “inside.”
UX writing isn't some sorority you have to memorize a secret song to pledge to. You don't need an official UX writing certification from a UX writing course to call yourself a UX writer.
And more importantly, you don't need to unlearn anything to transform into a UX writer.
The UX writing job description is based in skill sets that come from being a decent human in the working world.
In a recent webinar, someone asked what they would need to unlearn as a content writer to become a UX writer. I was taken aback and started rambling about onions.
The question surprised me because, you don't have to unlearn anything to become a UX writer. Instead, you have to learn how to apply your current skills to make you the latest and greatest UX writer.
Before I explain more, let's all get on the same page of what UX writing is all about…
What's UX writing?
At the very basic level, UX writing is about using words to do 4 things:
- Solve problems inside digital products
- Create a conversation between the product and the user
- Ask questions to develop deep understandings
- Advocate for people who can't speak for themselves
These are skills all people either have or can develop. And UX writing is just an application of these skills.
For example, if you're a content writer looking to transition to UX writing, problem-solving moves from how do I communicate and educate someone on an important concept to how can I help someone make an educated and informed choice.
If you understand the basics of problem-solving, conversation, asking questions, and advocating for people, you have what it takes to be a UX writer.
It's not about unlearning, it's about applying
I mentioned you already have skills that are highly relevant to UX writing. Don't unlearn them! Instead, apply them to this new UX-y setting.
I'm going to walk through 3 examples:
- Storytelling → story-building
- Educating and teaching → Unraveling and simplifying
- Writing → designing with words
1. Storytelling → story-building
Let's say we work for a fitness product.
As a content writer, we'd tell the story of how someone can improve their life by working out regularly in a blog post.
As a copywriter, we'd tell that same story in an ad or on a landing page.
In UX writing, we go beyond telling the story, we literally build the story inside the product. But the same principles apply.
For example, instead of a blog post explaining the benefits of exercise, UX writers write how that very same story plays out in action.
When someone signs up for this fitness product, a UX writer builds the story, or content strategy, screen-by-screen, using what information will be helpful and relevant and each point in time, to help this person along their user journey.
It's kinda like an onion (bet you didn't think I'd say onion twice in one lesson.) You don't take a big bite out of an onion at once. Instead, you slowly peel back the layers to get to the core.
UX writing works the same way. To get someone to reach their destination (the onion core,) we need to sequence out information at a timely and relevant cadence (peeling back the layers.)
The layers are screens in a sign-up flow, and UX writers determine how the story should unfold.
We're story-builders, not storytellers.
And if you can tell a story, you can build a story.
2. Educating and teaching → Unraveling and simplifying
All writers educate and teach in some form or fashion.
A blog post teaches and explains the intricacies of a subject. A landing page educates on why the product or subject is relevant to someone’s life.
UX writers, product teams, and design teams don't live isolated from marketing teams. We all work together to get users to stick around. And this applies to all writers at the company.
Let's imagine a journey a user might go down with this fitness product.
Say this user found a blog post by said company about 10 ways to get off your booty and exercise today. Then, they click to explore how that company's product could help with that.
They leave the site, and a few days later see a social media ad from the company explaining how the company’s product is the solution to their problem.
They ignore the ad, but then they see a few more ads. They eventually click the ad, head to the landing page, and buy the product.
This tale is the story of the hand-off from content writer to copywriter to UX writer.
The content writer and the copywriter educate and teach up until the user signs up for the product.
And the great thing is all that great education the content writer and copywriter put out there is already in the new user's brain, so the UX writer can work with an existing knowledge foundation.
Instead of continuing to educate on why this user should use the product, a UX writer proves why they should use this product and is the helping hand across their journey to reaching their desired goal.
But the teaching doesn't stop. It just becomes more concise, actionable, micro-sized, and product-related.
So instead of teaching someone about the benefits of health and fitness, you teach the same person how to use the product.
That could be onboarding tooltips to show someone the functions of the product, or it could be a product functionality change, like this:
The education becomes in context, but just like a blog post or a landing page, it requires the writer to deeply understand the topic to make the information click and easily understood.
3. Writing → designing with words
When it comes to a blog post or an ad, you're confined to the form factor.
A blog is a list of paragraphs, and the format of an ad is determined by Facebook or Google.
In these cases, your words have to insert into the form factor.
In UX writing, your words can go almost anywhere on the screen. Within reason, of course.
See, unlike writing a Google search ad or a blog post, UX writers don't have to fill in the blanks to match the form factor.
Instead, we use words to organize information to create useful, clear, and informative experiences. We aren't bound by a header and body copy. If the situation calls for it, we can add in a subheader, remove the body copy, and add an informative illustration.
We design with words, but the basics of writing still apply. The difference is a screen becomes your playground, and you get to build with words to create a compelling story that doesn't have to be up and down or chronological.
I firmly and wholeheartedly believe that if you want to be a UX writer, you can be a UX writer. You don't need a UX writing certification, and there's no secret password to join the club.
Don't unlearn what you already know — use it as your superpower to become an even better UX writer.
Happy UX writing 🖖