For a lot of people, being a UX writer sounds super easy. I thought it too, when I first started out. After all, how hard could it possibly be to string together words for an app or a website?
The answer: pretty damn hard. Over the course of my career, I’ve cut my teeth on everything from essays to blog posts, and long form text to white papers. But writing UX copy is a whole different ball game, and the most challenging kind of writing I’ve done. In this post, I’m going to detail 8 key things I’ve learned about UX copywriting:
1) Be clear, concise, and considerate
We’re used to writing text to make it sound impressive. I can’t stress the importance of being clear, concise, and considerate. We’re the ones speaking to our users from behind a screen. We also know our app and website, so it’s important to write how you speak, and keep it simple. It’s not okay to use words because they ‘sound’ nice. For instance, don’t use the word ‘discover’ when you mean ‘find’. My mentor Shanty always said to take out the words that don’t need to be there. This helps in avoiding ambiguity. Being explicit is vital, as this is how you instruct and guide your users.
It’s best to keep your content bite-sized. Users may not have the patience to read long form text on their devices when they’re navigating through your app/website.
2) Consistency is key
I understood the importance of this when I realised users get confused if you use different terminology for the same purpose. For instance, when you’re asking them to ‘Book a Table’ online, don’t change it to ‘Reserve a Table’ elsewhere. This includes the text, labels, buttons etc. It’s not just about confusing the user – by using the same terminology across your product, you are conditioning them to your voice, tone, and language. It helps in creating a dialogue with them, especially if you want them to come back.
3) Test your copy with coworkers
Bounce your copy off other people. If it’s confusing to someone, it probably needs to be reworked. It’s also quite beneficial if you ask someone whose first language isn’t English. If they don’t understand you, it’s most certainly not going to work for your users.
4) It needs to work in every language you have
This is something I learned when I was at Zomato – I sat next to Laura, who deals with translations. I’d run copy by her, and she’d tell me if it would break in Portuguese or Turkish. Sometimes, she’d tell me a better way to write what I needed to convey, because that’s just how it worked in another language. She wrote a great post about how translations work at Zomato, and you can read it here.
5) Trust your instincts
If it doesn’t sound right, or if you’re not happy with what you’ve written, it’s very likely your users will feel the same way. You all speak the same language, so trust your instincts.
6) Work closely with your product and design teams
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to amend copy to ‘make it snappy’ once the designs are done and it’s gone to development. We have to be involved at an earlier stage. We need to know who we’re writing for, to get the voice and tone right, and to ensure that important messages are delivered to our users.
We also need context, which is why we need to sit with the product teams. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received requests to write copy for something or just fix grammar – that’s not what we’re here for. We need to push to get user flows, goals, character limits etc. (Product managers – save us the trouble and sit with us or involve us early!) This just makes our jobs easier when we’re racing against time to meet deadlines. Better yet, create a process that ensures you receive all the information you need to get sh*t done.
7) Learn basic design software
Designers are busy people. We don’t need to learn everything they do, but it’s good to know the basics of tools such as Figma, Sketch, and Balsamiq. Put your copy on a mock-up, see how it looks and reads, and if it fits on the screen. We need to see this to make sure we’re doing our jobs right.
8) Don’t wait for the design
You don’t need to wait for the final design. If you need to write copy for a landing page, tell the designer what needs to be conveyed, to whom, where, and how it needs to be. Content and design are two sides of the same coin. Don’t separate them. They’re both what the user needs immediately, and the two elements work together to give that to the user.
Writing for UI is not an easy task. You may think it is, because it’s small bits of content. But it’s the most difficult kind of writing I’ve ever done. I found it easy to be flowery and make words seem prettier, but with UI, you drill down to the basics. Everybody needs to understand you. You need to be inclusive of your audience. It has to go with your brand voice and tone. It has to be consistent with the rest of your app/website. This is a very basic checklist – but you need to know your user, and be able to guide them.