What do UX writers do? UX writing vs Copywriting (2021 Guide)

Let’s talk about why UX writing can be a great career for you, and what exactly you can do to become a UX writer.

UX Writing vs Copywriting

The demand for UX writers has grown significantly in recent years. Major tech companies and online retailers offer UX writing talents very lucrative salaries to help them win happy customers.

User experience (UX) writing is a promising new career, and many copywriters are looking to switch to it, attracted by better earning opportunities. So let’s talk about why UX writing can be an excellent career for you and what exactly you can do to get your first job in UX writing!

What Is The Difference Between UX Writing and Copywriting?

In short, copywriters write for potential customers, while UX writers mostly create content for existing ones. Let us explain. 

The goal of copywriting is to convince potential clients (e.g., blog or magazine readers) that they need the product or service in question, so the ultimate goal is to sell. Examples of copywriting include landing pages, blog posts, and email newsletters.

UX writers, on the other hand, create the so-called microcopy – tiny pieces of content such as texts for login pages, onboarding screens, pop-up boxes, error messages (e.g., “page 404”), CTA buttons, and the like. As you might guess, good UX copy is vital to eliminating friction in your user flow, fixing leaks in your marketing funnel, and improving your conversion rates

Suppose a user (website visitor) struggles to complete a specific user scenario (something they want from the product) because of the unclear, misleading copy. In that case, chances are they will uninstall the app or go back to the search results to find another SaaS product that better meets their needs.  

Obviously, the last thing business owners want is to lose potential or existing customers due to poor user experience and poorly written UX copy. It doesn’t just cost them sales and revenue right now but hurts their SEO rankings and App Store/Google Play rankings in the long run.

That is where a UX writer steps in. Your job as a UX writer is to ensure an enjoyable user experience by providing engaging, intuitive, logically structured UX copy.

What does a UX writer do?

As previously mentioned, the role of a UX writer is to create user-friendly copy that helps them follow the flows (user stories) that UX designers mapped out. 

Here’s what you might work on as a UX writer: 

  • Menu tabs content
  • Headlines and subheads
  • CTA (call-to-action) buttons (not just the old boring “Sign up” and “Buy now”) 
  • Newsletter sign-up forms
  • User onboarding screens (a short “how-to” instruction for new product users)
  • Error messages 
  • In-product marketing screens (we call them “interstitial ads” or simply “interstitials”)
  • Notifications
  • Settings etc.

Because these are short pieces of copy, you might think they’ll be easier to write than, say, a skyscraper blog post. Quite the opposite, actually. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with limitations such as the number of characters you can use because the user interface (UI) was initially designed for a language with much shorter words and can not be re-designed. So to write an excellent UX copy that performs as it should, you’ll have to use a lot of research and creativity. 

What Skills Does A UX Writer Need?

There are two types of skills — hard skills (measurable abilities like programming in Python) and soft skills (transferable skills like leadership). Unlike in many other professions, soft skills are more important than hard skills in UX writing.

Why is that?

To improve the user experience on a website or an app, a UX writer needs to empathize with and understand the people using it. If they lack strong interpersonal skills, this can be challenging. A team job like UX writing also requires good interpersonal skills, so you need that too. 

These are some of the skills that UX writers must have:  

  • Interpersonal skills

As part of a large product team, UX writers must collaborate with others (UX and UI designers, product managers, sometimes developers, or other team members), convey their ideas in a friendly, positive manner, and accept criticism.

  • Adaptability and critical thinking 

People’s interaction with technology is constantly changing: what worked yesterday may not be good enough today. UX writers need to accept this and adapt to changing consumer needs.

  • Empathy and creativity

The job of a UX writer is to help companies achieve business goals (more sales, higher conversions) through providing better user experiences. To do that, one needs to be empathetic and creative, possess a designer mindset, and be a natural problem-solver. 

Sounds like you need to be a superhero? Not actually! As we already mentioned, soft skills are transferable by nature, which makes UX writing an excellent career for people with various professional backgrounds, from journalism to teaching. 

Other skills that will help you in a UX writing career are project management, data analytics, marketing, and web skills. 

How much do UX writers make?

UX writers can be compensated differently: those who work in-house receive a salary, while freelance UX writers charge both per hour and per project.  

On average, a UX writer can expect to earn around $100,000/year according to Glassdoor, though it is important to note that salaries vary from country to country.

It is exciting to see a field where even entry-level applicants can still earn salaries over $60,000USD a year, whether they freelance or work within a company. In comparison, an entry-level copywriter can expect to earn just under $60,000USD, according to Indeed.

As you see, junior UX writers have the opportunity to earn as much as experienced copywriters, so it’s not surprising that many are switching careers. 

How to become a UX writer?

While many UX writers will already have a background in copywriting, this isn’t necessarily a requirement.

Sure, it might give you a headstart, but employers are far more interested in what skills and potential you can bring to their project than a list of prior experience.

As we mentioned earlier, soft skills are what potential employers are looking for. You need to convince them that you can take the user’s perspective and deliver a product they love using.

There are things you can do to stand out from the competition, especially if you are starting out. 

1. Take a course in UX writing (and get certified)

Probably the most obvious choice when you are switching careers. With the growing popularity of UX writing, the number of courses available is also increasing.

With some of the biggest learning platforms offering courses in UX writing, you’re in good hands.

Taking a good-structured course will give you an in-depth knowledge of the industry and allow you to build up a portfolio to wow potential clients and employers. It will also demonstrate your willingness to learn new skills, which many potential employers and customers look for.

2. Learn the tools of the trade

Because UX writers work together with other product team members on prototyping, developing, and improving products, they need specific tech skills. 

Typically UX writers will need a working knowledge of these:

  • Word processor/editing program, ideally with collaboration features (e.g., Google Docs)
  • Proofreading tools/writing assistant (e.g., Grammarly
  • Video calling software (e.g., Skype, Zoom, etc.)
  • Collaboration/project management tools
  • Prototyping tools (e.g., Figma, Sketch, etc.)
  • A/B testing tools 

This may seem like a lot, but don’t forget that unlike traditional copy (e.g., blog posts), UX copy needs to be constantly analyzed, tested, and tweaked to get the best results.  

3. Build a portfolio

Learning the tools and taking a UX writing course is not enough to get you hired, of course. As with many other creative jobs, you need to build a portfolio to showcase your skills. The good news is you can create a portfolio even if you are just starting and haven’t had a single client yet. 

What should you include in a UX writer portfolio? 

This article will help you to figure out precisely what you need in your UX writing portfolio and how to set it up. 

Building a UX writer portfolio is certainly hard if you haven’t had any clients yet. How can you create a quality portfolio if you don’t have anything to put in it? There are a few options actually!

One way to do it would be to find issues with a website or app you use regularly and imagine you’ve been hired as the UX writer to fix it. Provide a detailed breakdown of what you plan to change to improve the user experience, why you believe this will enhance the user experience, and how you plan to change it.

A second option is to create your own website. You can then share it with your friends and ask for their feedback to improve their user experience. You can document these improvements as they are made and use them in your portfolio.

You may also offer your UX writing services on pro bono terms to a startup, a non-profit, or another company with a limited marketing budget that would surely benefit from better UX copy. Just don’t forget to ask them for a testimonial and permission to add this case to your portfolio.

Summary 

UX writing is a great new career path that is open to people of any professional background.

If you are worried that you may not handle the job because you don’t have a writing background, take comfort because many UX writers who are now successful were in your position at the beginning of their career.

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