How to take the first steps in UX writing

Natali Nascimento


First Steps in UX Writing
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UX writing is all about words that matter. Words that you’ll need to add to a product meant to achieve or engage users into actions they should take. We can see UX writing as content guidelines that you add to your Design System or product Style Guide to complement the user experience. So, it’s an integral part of your products and brand. Let’s see how!

What is UX writing?

Like Sara Richards expressed about herself, 

“As someone who writes for web content, I want to learn what content design is, and how to start doing it so that I can communicate in the most user-centered and efficient way for my audience.” 

So do I, and perhaps you, as a UX designer, want to learn more about UX writing.

UX Design

When I first started listening to the term “UX Writing”, I was unsure what it was really about. Then, in a workshop, the tutor explained it in a way that made a lot of sense to me.  And I was surprised to realize how similar it is to the UX design process.

UX writing is all the text that the user can read or hear in an interface (UI). I’m talking about those tiny copies that make the user interact with a platform to perform a task. From buttons, instructions, titles, forms, notifications, or even chatbot messages. Basically, it is the text that appears on the screens of our mobile phones, tablets, and computers, or other digital devices like smartwatches. But, it can also be the voice we hear when we talk to devices that use voice as a communication interface. Those voice messages help users achieve their goals, like Alexa or Siri, for example.

Still, UX writing isn't copywriting. UX writing focuses on the product and how people use it. Copywriting focuses on selling something or creating an engagement with a target audience. A UX writer designs with words and content architecture. We all have the same goal: create a great user experience that aligns with the company's overall vision, business strategy, and users' needs. That's why a good UX writing process begins with discovery. Imagine how your interfaces would be without text or sound.


Why have a content style guide

Straightforward content gives users clear information helping them complete actions successfully. That means that investing in UX writing will increase your product's profit margins. Useful and explicit content motivates the users and increases traffic within the product. It also encourages users to move forward, explore, and, at some point, take action. 

To ensure you're in the right way, you will need to create a robust set of content guidelines. That will guarantee that your output is consistent, honed to your audience, and published when it will have the most impact. And at the end, it saves you time and makes onboarding new writers easier for knowledge transfer.

Some guidelines to establish a content style guide for your products

In the beginning, you will probably see many examples that seem solid and consistent with many of your elements. Don't be scared. Start small, one step at a time! Setting the tone and voice of your brand will help and guide you to build your content guide.

 Kristina Halvorson is quite clear about that:

“Don’t worry about having your proverbial ducks in a row before you dive into content strategy. You don’t need months of planning, a new staff, and a million dollars to do it. As Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” So let’s get moving.”

Before you can sit down and actually write a set of guidelines, you need to do some research. As I said earlier, a great user experience aligns with the company's overall vision and business strategy, and users' needs. That's why a good UX writing process begins with discovery.

When creating a style guide to help you and your team with the way you write for certain products, you should start by establishing some cross points. Those are very important and are present in all digital products. Here are some critical points that you can begin to define in your content guide:

1. The discovery

First of all, define some guidelines about the customer and users' needs so that the following points are in agreement with them. You must understand who your client and user are. You also need to be aware of your needs and desires regarding the digital product you are designing. That will allow you to create an experience that matches the user's expectations. Here are some points you should take into account in the discovery phase before starting to write the guide: Personality, Needs, Expectations.

You should also consider other questions such as what are the objectives of the client/user when using our app/website/service platform? What experiences do you want to convey to the client/user?

2. The voice and tone 

People don't remember your words, but they never forget how they make them feel. That is due to the way the tone and voice are worked.

You and your team must understand and create a group vision of what should be the tone and voice of your product. 

Tone and Voice are distinct concepts, so you should not use the expression: "Tone of voice". Voice is the company's personality and is usually described using adjectives. On the other hand, Tone is the emotional quality attributed to the Voice. It's how the content adapts depending on the target audience, circumstance, or theme in question.

The words in your product interface establish your product's personality. So, defining the tone of any content at the beginning of its design will help your team create the content guidelines. Take a look at the tone and voice of NNgroup to understand better how you can analyze and establish your tone's product.

I would also recommend you to prepare the voice principles. How? Host some Voice and Tone workshops to further engage colleagues in your process. Also, drive awareness of the importance of having content guidelines in place. Consider hosting some interactive workshops around Voice and Tone.

You can create activities with your team to better understand who you are, how you sound, and what personality you want to portray in our product. Use whiteboarding, worksheets, and sticky notes, to visualize trends easily. After, use them to create a voice and tone with which everyone is identified and establish your voice principles.

In the end, your guide may include practical examples of Tone variation. That is important to help you how to adapt the tone to different situations. In this section, you can identify the main scenarios in which it is necessary to resort to slight variations in our tone, which must be adapted to the context and mood of the user.

3. The Content Style 

In this section, you can start by including some content guidelines/promising practices in the style guide that should also be transversal. Here is some help:

. Be direct and natural: We should write clearly and pleasantly and only say what we mean

. Speak directly to the user: Use the second or third person, according to the target audience. That helps create a pleasant and dialogic style. It gives the user the idea that the product is talking directly to him. This gives a sense of involvement, making the user more engaged with the product. 

. Use the present tense: It is more direct and allows you to save words. We should avoid writing in the past and the future.

. Use active voice: Makes sentences shorter and more direct, and with greater fluidity. That’s because, in a clause written in the active voice, the subject of the clause performs the action. Passive voice tends to make communication more formal. In a clause written in the passive voice, the action is performed upon the subject of the clause. 

The active voice can provide more clarity, brevity, accountability, or certainty than the passive voice. The passive voice may be more appropriate when the actor is unimportant or unknown.

. Use interjections carefully: They can help you humanize the content but work better when used only once. Like in a hit message or an email, they lose credibility if the user is constantly reading them. They can result in error messages. And, you should ensure that the interjections respect the user and its emotional state, avoiding the business appearing incompetent.

. Respect product names: You must not use abbreviations or acronyms to refer to the name of a product unless we have the authorization to do so. However, you should not assign human characteristics to software performance, as in the example below.

. Use simple language: Formal language makes it difficult for the user to interact with the product and makes the experience less pleasant. The main goal should be creating a fluid talk between the user and the product.

What is simple language? It's using everyday language whenever possible. It's talking directly to the user, avoiding jargon or other overly polite words. Find more explanations in plain language for experts.

Additionally, in the style section, you can also define some rules to help fellow UX writers maintain coherence and consistency related to Content Creation, Content Review, and Accessibility Rules.

4. The Components 

In this section, taking into account the objectives of your product, you can include examples of good behavior for different types of components and what the text in them should be like, such as Error messages, Input fields, Communication with the bot.

This list of components will depend on what your product is and what is included in the design system of that product/site/app or service.

In conclusion, you need to keep your content guide in mind at all times when you're micro writing focused on the user experience. So when you're doing that you must update, implement, test, repeat the created content. Notice that your content guidelines are always working and progressing as a live system, that should continually evolve and be adapted to users' needs, design needs, business goals needs.

To help develop your guide you can start with creating an implementation plan. Based on your research, what areas are a top priority? What content needs the most updating? Seek out quick wins, and keep improving and evolving your content style guide in your design system.

Want to know more about the topic?

Take a look at a case study in the area of ​​UX Writing (book):  Content Design 

You can also find other examples of established content guidelines and served as inspiration at  Mailchimp and Shopify.

To access relevant information on the topic of UX Writing such as books, online courses, first steps, events go to Ux writing library.

And finally, learn more about the topic at Escrever para a experiência do utilizador and UX writing foundations.


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