Does it seem like there’s a magical UX writing process that the UX writing masters follow, and if you don’t follow it to a tee, you’re gonna fail as a UX writer?
Good news — that’s totally false. The best UX writing process is a UX writing process that works well for you.
We all think and work differently as people, and every company has different structures and processes that influence how they work, too.
While I can’t give you the “perfect” UX writing process, I can give you a UX writing process model that’s simple, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow, and has never steered me wrong.
This process has 4 simple steps:
Shall we explore?
Step 1: Discover
Discover, or Discovery, is the first step in this UX writing process. And it pretty much is what it sounds like — discovering what we’re going to be doing.
This is the time to get your Sherlock Holmes hat out, pull out the magnifying glass, and ask every “dumb” question that comes to mind (psst… there are no dumb questions 🙃)
The goal of the Discover phase is to assess the problem you’re looking to solve, so you have enough data and information to form a conclusion on the best plan of attack.
Imagine you’ve had your laptop for 5 years, and you’re having issues with it now. Issues like needing to restart it every 3 days because “an unexpected error occurred.” That’s your problem, and it’s a big one, because you use your laptop for work.
Before you jump to buying a new laptop, you try to assess what’s wrong with it. You analyze your apps and see if any seem suspicious. You go through your files and free up some storage space. You go on Reddit to see if other people have had similar issues and what their solutions were.
This is an example of the Discovery phase — you’re doing your due diligence to dissect the problem and understand its inner workings.
This process isn’t so different when it comes to UX writing. Except, instead of analyzing apps and going on Reddit, we do things like:
- Content audits
- Competitive analyses
- User research
- User journey mapping
A content audit is a review of the content in a user experience. You take a bunch of screenshots and aim to answer:
- What have you got?
- Is it any good?
- (How) can you make it better?
The goal of a content audit is to understand what’s working and not working to accomplish a goal, so you know what to keep, what to take away, and what to edit.
It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly complicated. Lauren Pope has some great advice on how to conduct a content audit from scratch.
My best advice is don’t get caught up in “formal” content audit processes — a content audit that works is a content audit that fits the project needs.
My content audits are made up of a bunch of screens that look like this:
I go around adding “sticky notes” to the product, and come back later to look for trends and insights. (Pst… You can see this full content audit here.)
A competitive analysis is exactly what it sounds like — you analyze your competition.
In a competitive analysis, you look for a product doing something similar and things like:
- How they solve the problem
- Language they use
- Their voice & tone
Informed by what your competition is doing, you can use those insights to understand:
- What’s working for them
- What’s not working for them
- How you can stand out
When I conduct a competitive analysis, I start by creating a big cluster of screenshots from various competitors, like this:
That might not always work, depending on what you’re analyzing, but as visual as you can make it, the better.
Then, I like to synthesize findings in a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, or SWOT, chart, like this:
User research in the discovery step helps you gain an understanding of what the user wants and needs.
Here, you’ll work very closely with the user research team. You won’t be responsible for designing a research plan, but you will get to be involved in formulating what kinds of questions to ask.
Research methods you might be involved in are:
- Focus groups: Groups of 3–12 participants are led through a discussion about a set of topics, giving verbal and written feedback through discussion and exercises.
- Interviews: A researcher meets with participants one-on-one to discuss in depth what the participant thinks about the topic in question.
- Diary studies: Participants record and describe aspects of their lives that are relevant to a product or service or simply core to the target audience.
- Surveys: Measure attitudes through a series of questions, typically more closed-ended than open-ended.
Here’s an example of a diary study findings from my time at Netflix:
User journey mapping
A user journey is a path a user takes to reach their goal in a digital product. Think of it like a visual trip of the user across the solution.
The user journey considers not only the steps that a user takes but also their feelings, pain points, and moments of delight.
A user journey map is a visualization of an individual’s relationship with a product over time and across different channels, or methods of communication or service delivery, like a website or physical store.
The user can have an excellent user experience in one channel (like on a website when they purchase an item) but a terrible experience in another (like in a physical store where they try to return the item). When we collect information about channels, it helps us to uncover gaps in the user experience.
Here’s an example of a user journey map from Nielsen Norman Group:
Why does user journey mapping matter?
The goal of creating a user journey map is to create a shared vision. A user journey map is an excellent tool for product teams because it visualizes how a user interacts with a product and allows designers to see a product from a user’s point of view.
A well-designed user journey tells a story of how a person interacts with a product. And that story will be key to how you approach solving the problem.
Step 2: Define
At the end of the Discover stage, you should have a ton of insights. The Define stage takes all of these insights and ties it together into a fully formed thought.
The purpose of the Define stage is to create a game plan to tackle how to solve your problem.
This involves using the information you gathered from the Discover stage to create a hypothesis, or a testable statement proclaiming and backing up the solution to a problem.
Back to the laptop example, you’ve collected all of these insights about what might be wrong with your laptop. You tried a few, and have come to the conclusion you need a new motherboard (I don’t know — I’m just making this up 🤷🏻♀️)
Getting a new motherboard is an informed guess. You’re not 100% confident it’ll solve your problem, but based on what you discovered, you’re pretty sure it’s the best plan of attack.
That’s what you do at the Define stage — get to the point where you can point at something as the best plan of attack.
Of course, solving product problems is a bit more complex than fixing your laptop (depends on who you ask,) and we need a tight definition of how we’ll tackle the problem, so we can back up our strategy to the rest of the team and company.
You’ll do that by creating a brief. A brief is a somewhat-formal document that outlines your project plan. It includes things like:
- Your hypothesis
- What problem you’re solving
- How you’ll measure success
- The target user
- Timeline of tasks
- Compliance regulations
- Edge cases
- Engineering constraints
You won’t build this brief alone — it’s usually owned by the product manager or program manager, but you’ll work closely with them to put it together.
After you have a beautiful brief that everyone is aligned on, it’s time to design 👩🏻🎨
Step 3: Design
Now it’s time to open Figma and get your cursor dirty 🖱️
The design phase includes 3 activities:
- Explore the concept
- Refine the exact microcopy
- Usability and comprehension testing
1. Explore the concept
The first step in your design process is to explore the concept. This includes:
- Ideating on the story
- Figuring out the most logical flow
- Defining the content (not copy) for each screen
When I say defining the content (not copy,) I mean spending time defining what needs to be said on a screen, but not how to say it just yet.
When exploring the concept, work very closely with product designers to marry the best of visual and verbal communication and strategy.
2. Refine the exact copy
Once the high-level story, flow, and content have been hashed out, it’s time for you to translate the concept into exact words.
If your company has existing voice and tone guidelines, lean on them heavily in this step. If you don’t have existing voice and tone guidelines, use a neutral voice and tone that’ll work in the meantime that doesn’t stray from what already exists in the client's product. Then, come back and define the voice and tone.
3. Usability and comprehension testing
This is where you uncover if your proposed solution resonates with your target users.
Working with user research, you’ll conduct what’s called a usability test.
In a usability test, participants are given a prototype of your solution to use. As they go through it. The user researcher asks them questions to understand what they’re feeling and assess how well they comprehend the information.
Once you glean insight from testing, spend time weaving those insights into the designs to optimize the product.
Step 4: Refine
Before you’re ready to ship the product, take a moment to refine the solution to make sure it meets all best practices. This is where you do a final check to make sure your microcopy is:
Once those checks are crossed off, it’s time to launch 🚀
Happy UX writing 🖖