What was the first thing you did when you got a new phone? You may be loyal Brand X user who changed sides and bought a Brand Y smartphone, or you may have just updated your current device to a new release, but it is highly likely that the first thing you did was explore its features.
Smartphones and other things in life come with a manual, but innovations and technology are meant to make things easier, and reading long instructions nowadays is deemed as just another step that makes things more complicated than it should be. With the technology at hand, products must already be intuitively designed for use without the need for guidelines.
UX Coming to Prominence
Truth be told, the importance of user experience (UX) isn’t a new concept. Brands, products, and services have always been created with the customer in mind. But, it is true that there’s an increased focus in UX today.
What could be behind this? According to experts, it’s these improvements in technology, as it has led to higher consumer power when it comes to purchasing decisions, which in turn also depends on the experiences they have with a brand whether it’s through a website or app.
UX is concerned with different elements that compose the user interface, including brand, layout, text, visuals, sound, and interaction.
But the element that will significantly make a difference is the words. UX writing exists because language is an intrinsic part of a user’s experience with the brand.
Writing for UX means crafting words for user interfaces (UI) and touchpoints to guide them in using and interacting with a product, both on a micro- and macro-scale. This means that the person responsible, or the UX writer, must not only be the voice of the organization but must also care about their audience.
In some cases, UX copy can also be microcopy. This refers to UX writing serving as small components of hints for users, including buttons and menu copy, error messages, security notes, and terms and conditions.
Differentiating UX Writing from…
Copywriters, content writers, and UX writers share something similar, but their means and ends are all but the same. Content and UX writers can both write for web pages, but content writers commonly incorporate SEO practices, which doesn’t concern UX writers, although the best UX copy is one that also takes a data-driven approach.
Copywriters, meanwhile, advocate the product to its audience to make them take action, which would hopefully turn into a sale. This is why copywriters are part of the marketing team. They make the product look and sound good to its intended user with grandiose terms (sometimes verging on over-promising).
UX writers cannot do the same—simple words are preferred to briefly explain their intentions to an audience whose only goal is to know how the product or service benefits them. Rather than being advocates, UX writers only want users to have a positive experience in using it.
Why UX Writing Matters
It may seem like an easy job, but as research puts it, “… writers often use the language they are most familiar with when describing offerings on websites, without realizing that those terms are unknown to their readers.”
This merely means that writers tend to use company- or industry-specific terms instead of user-centric language. When UX writers put themselves in the shoes of their audience, it can increase the likelihood of their UI being explored. Nielsen Norman explains that user-centric terms “… can draw people in, emulate a courteous customer-service agent, and humanize the user experience.”
Proper terminology makes your intentions clear and facilitates users in completing the tasks you want them to do, making their experience seamless. The right words and messaging can also reduce friction and uncertainty.
Business needs must weave with the users’ to come up with clear and empathetic language, one that doesn’t distract users from what you want them to accomplish on your site. Take the time to do extensive user research to determine their voice, style, and tone, and test it as part of your overall UX research plan.
What Constitutes Effective UX Copy?
Like any other discipline in writing, UX writing best practices follow three essential elements. Keep in mind, though, that these principles don’t always work together, but the key is to find the right balance by having a deep understanding of your brand’s voice and your products’ core functions.
Clarity has already been discussed—moving away from technical terms and jargon to put the action in the context of the user. It should be so simple that people could interact with the product without a manual. For example, when announcing an app update, inform right away what the new features mean for the users instead of simply showcasing updated technical specs.
Having concise copy means that every word on the message has a distinct job. It may be easy to do this, but getting your audience to read through every word is the hard part. This is because studies suggest that an average person reads in an F-shaped pattern when consuming content (read the first few lines but will start scanning and scrolling down).
In this case, you can practice frontloading, wherein you place the most important concepts at the beginning, so even if your audience scans in an F pattern, they've already read the essential terms first.
As mentioned, UX copy is only helpful or effective if it made the reader act in a way that progresses your agenda after reading it, so your call-to-action needs to resonate with what people want to do. Paying attention to the writing and the people who will read it are necessary, but good design also helps.
Tips for Writing Better UX Copy
With the objectives and essential foundations in mind, the following suggestions on how you can make your UX copy better will come in handy:
Address the “you”
UX writing should feel like a conversation wherein the focus is the user. Using “you” will instantly catch their attention and establish a relationship between you and the user. Avoid touting the “hard work of the company that went into the product”—the reader likely doesn’t care much about it.
Don’t try to sound smart
UX copy should be easy to perceive, so big words and industry jargon, as pointed out earlier, would easily alienate your readers. As much as possible, write as if your audience is on a 5th-grade reading level. MS Word or Hemingway Editor can check this for you.
Test it on different users
A little bit of user testing never hurts, and the easiest way to do this is to get a co-worker or friend who closely resembles your target audience. Have them read your copy and ask what they feel about it.
Just because you're concise with your writing, it doesn't mean you can't put a creative spin on things. Instead of being plain, bring some positive emotions to your UX or microcopy.
Reflect brand voice
UX writing is basically the brand conversing with its users, so make sure to consider the voice and image of the brand when writing the copy.
Write with user questions in mind
Users will likely have questions about your product, so it’s best to address them on your copy or instructions. Try to preempt common concerns or objections they may have and handle them before they’re asked.
Lay it out properly for easy reading
Some of the ways you can make a design work without sacrificing text readability include making the print big enough for the average reader, using fonts that are easy to read, using text and background colors that are compatible, providing ample blank spaces, using lists or bullet points, and aligning the text to the left.
With UX soon becoming a vital brand differentiator and companies increasing their focus on UX metrics, many jobs concerning this principle—including writing—will become more common, too. And it won’t be surprising to see UX copywriting developing alongside the technologies that made it an essential part of the audience’s journey with every product.