For many people in the tech industry, the affinity for writing stops at writing code. But for others who love both the mechanics of language and the inner workings of IT, UX writing presents an opportunity for a successful career that merge the two.
According to data gathered by Talent.com, the average annual salary for a UX writer in the U.S. hovers around $125,000. That’s roughly 13% more than the average front end developer and nearly double the salary of the average copywriter (although, of course salaries vary with experience, title, and region).
As a relatively new field, UX writing also presents lots of opportunities for growth and creativity — more products entering the market mean that there’s more companies that need UX writing — making it an ideal career path for those with the requisite skills and interests.
But what exactly are those skills and interests that can translate to an opportunity for you?
Here, we’ll define UX writing, its importance to companies, and how you can get in the door as a side hustle or full-time gig.
What is UX writing?
The definition of UX writing becomes fairly self-explanatory once you understand the name. UX stands for “user experience,” and when boiled down, the essence of a UX writer’s job is to create "microcopy" — think headlines, buttons, calls to action, and notifications — across a website, app, or other interface that simplifies and enhances the user’s experience as they navigate that product, creating road signs so the user can seamlessly get where they need to go.
Let's use Polywork as an example. When you’re choosing your personal website’s template, you see text describing each option. Want a free trial? Click the button that reads “Start Free Trial” — it sounds simple, but many organizations can overcomplicate and confuse users with subpar UX writing.
Along the way, you may encounter a pop-up asking you to verify your personal information. Enter information in a field incorrectly? You’ll see an error message. All of that microcopy—in fact, every piece of customer-facing text on the internet or on an app—was written by someone in order to ease your experience as a user.
Why is UX writing important?
Good UX writing not only minimizes a user’s frustrations while navigating an app or site, it also creates a rapport and builds trust with a product. For example, if someone is choosing between similar products to purchase, hard-to-interpret checkout instructions may cause them to jump ship.
In social media, UX writing can help you avoid some dicey situations. For instance, a confusing UX plus button call-to-action on a social media platform may lead someone to post an update publicly rather than sharing it with just one friend. Clear, concise microcopy keeps everything — including your sanity — on the up and up.
Before getting started in UX writing, there are three areas of proficiency:
1. The product and its UX design
It’s the age-old advice: Before you can teach someone how to do something, you need to be able to do it yourself. As a UX writer, this means developing a strong understanding of your product before guiding anyone else through it. Fluency in the brand’s objectives, identity, voice, and tone will allow you to craft copy that reflects the brand. Understanding the product also includes understanding how your specific interface works on a technological and design level.
UX writers are essentially an arm of the UX design team, which orchestrates the look and feel of an interface. You must understand what’s going on behind the scenes in order to translate that into words for the user.
It’s important, then, for UX writers to understand at least some basic UX design principles:
- Miller’s Law - a person’s active memory can only hold around seven things at once.
- Hick’s Law - decisions take more time if there are more choices to be made.
- Jakob’s Law - users want your site to function like other sites they are already familiar with.
For a resume boost, it could also helpful to learn the basics of design tools such as Figma or the Adobe suite. Your copy is part of a finished product, so comprehending the ins and outs of that product is crucial.
2. The audience
As with all writing, connecting with your audience is critical to getting your message across. Look at the product through their eyes:
- What are their goals?
- How are they using it?
- What might be confusing to someone who has never encountered this website or app before?
While you’ve worked hard to understand the details of your product, keep in mind that the customer hasn’t. Andy Carney, a UX writer and host of the UX, He Wrote YouTube series, puts it plainly: “As a UX writer, it’s your job to learn everything there is to know about that product or that user flow or that feature, but then pretend you know nothing.”
In keeping with that empathetic approach, writing for your audience also means using terminology your user demographic will understand. Speak their language—both literally and metaphorically, and avoid microcopy that will confuse, patronize, or outright turn your audience away.
“As a UX writer, it’s your job to learn everything there is to know about that product or that user flow or that feature, but then pretend you know nothing.”
Another critical aspect of understanding your audience involves discerning how they use your product. Predict which pages they might visit in what sequence and anticipate the questions they may have as they go along. Look at your website’s analytics to figure out how long people are staying on certain pages, where they’re coming from and where they’re going, and how they move about. According to a 2020 study, people read differently online than they do in print (online, they’re far more likely to scan a page than read it word for word), so tailor your text accordingly.
While UX writing is unlikely to win awards for prose, a UX writer still needs to have a good grasp of language. You need to write clearly and concisely, leveraging the right tone and the voice of the brand. You need to use proper grammar (most of the time) and direct vocabulary to create cohesive thoughts. You need to edit down long thoughts into succinct, actionable verbiage.
But despite being skillful wordsmiths, UX writers must often check their literary egos at the door. To appeal to a wider audience, some experts advocate for limiting your vocabulary to a middle school reading level and being open to throwing other elements of style out the door. And while it may be hard for the average writer to read this, in many cases passive voice and improper grammar can be effective tools for UX writing.
As Carney alluded to above, the best UX writing will go unnoticed. If a user is paying attention to how you said something, they are not fully immersed in the experience of your product.
Ok, I've got UX writing principles covered. What’s next?
So you think you have what it takes to be a UX writer? Now it’s time to put that desire into action. The field is competitive, but the demand for UX writers is still growing (by some measures, the demand is projected to rise 23% over the next seven years).
While past writing experience can help you stand out, UX writing is so different from copywriting or creative writing that most employers are looking for portfolios that contain direct UX writing experience.
If you’re new to the field, have no fear: experience can be easily gained. For instance, there's a couple common paths you can take:
- Take an online UX class to get more insight into the field and create case studies you can attach to your portfolio. (As basic design knowledge is also helpful in this sphere, taking courses in whatever your blind spot is may look good to prospective employers, as well.)
- Not up for a class? You can create your own case studies—examples of your skills and knowledge, showing your reasoning behind each decision—based on online examples and tutorials (of which there are many to choose from).
As you look for job opportunities, it may be worth your while to add some real-life experience to your resume by volunteering to write or edit microcopy for local companies, friends’ brands, or nonprofits. The more experience and portfolio examples you have, the higher likelihood you have of securing a full-time UX job.