Jul 11, 2018

Why Copywriting and UX Writing Actually Have a Lot in Common

Careers Team

In 2017 Digital Copywriter Evelyn made the switch from copywriting to UX writing.  In today's post, she shares why she made the switch to UX Writer and the similarities between the two disciplines.


I’m having a conversation with my manager. She thinks my job title (digital copywriter) doesn’t match my actual job, and I can’t help but agree. A bit of content strategy here, some copy tests there and, more recently, microcopy.

“So, UX writing? It’s more or less what you do now.”

There’s just one problem: I don’t know a great deal about UX writing.

My first proper writing job was at a daily deals site — plumbing to colonics, I plugged it. After that, I joined a mobile media agency and wrote banner ads. Lots of them. “UX” anything feels alien.

I tell her I’ll think about it, and read Kristina Bjoran’s “What is UX writing?” on the tram home.

By the time I get off, I’m sold.

In the months that follow, I learn that copywriting and UX writing are by no means the same, although there are certain parallels. Today, I have listed 3 practical writing techniques both use, with some screenshots thrown in. Let’s get started.

1. Both sell the benefits

Make sure folks know what’s in it for them.

Imagine you own a company offering high speed internet. You could make everything about your 100mbps wifi speed. But what matters for customers are things like watching cat videos on repeat and making calls without having to reset the box. Great copywriters explain what users stand to gain, listing features only when necessary.

ABC Copywriting. Nailed it.
ABC Copywriting. Nailed it

UX writers do this too.

I recently worked on a location primer, the screen that shows up before an app asks for permission to access your location. My team would have saved a lot of time had we skipped this screen and gone straight for the request notification.

The problem with this, though, is users have no idea why the app needs their location. People are more likely to accept if you can clearly explain why it’s in their best interests. That’s where words come in.

We prep users before asking for their location.
We prep users before asking for their location

Nick Babich, Editor-in-chief of UX Planet, calls this “Benefit Explanation” in his brilliant rundown of The Right Ways to Ask Users for Permissions:

“A simple rule: Make sure it’s crystal clear for users what they’ll get in return for accepting the request.

2. Both harness repetition

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

As a copywriter, it’s your job to persuade readers to take action. Repeating familiar words like ‘save’, ‘fast’, and ‘free’ helps the message to stick. Mads Soegaard at Interaction Design Foundation compares this to learning your times tables:

“You may remember learning your times tables by repeating them until you drummed them into your mind. The principle here is the same.”

Notice how Audible UK repeat their primary call-to-action three times.

Repeating call-to-actions work well on longer pages.
Repeating call-to-actions work well on longer pages

UX writers also repeat things, reshaping scarcity messages across multiple touchpoints. This is a useful tactic, but only if you can offer real reasons to explain said scarcity. Make it vague, or repeat too often, and customers will overlook the message. You don’t want that.

House of Fraser displays real-time activity on their site, both on the search and product page.
House of Fraser displays real-time activity on their site, both on the search and product page

3. Both omit needless words

The less said, the better.

Both consider how their text will expand (or contract) when translated into certain languages. Fun fact alert: did you know English can expand up to 30% when translated? That’s why you’ll often see UX writers and designers bashing heads to make sure UI elements have enough space to accommodate text expansion.

How will this look in French, Italian or… German? *runs away in terror*

To borrow from GetYourGuide’s UX Writing guidelines

Do: Enter your email (Depending on the design of the page, even just “Email” could be fine.)

Don’t: Kindly enter your preferred email address in the form field

For simpler translations, sentences should be short, concise, and specific.

See, Michael Devers gets it. Source.
See, Michael Devers gets it. Source.

So, what’s the biggest difference?

If copywriters persuade people to buy products, UX writers help them use and interact with those products, e.g., set up an account, check an order, recover a lost password. All the stuff you don’t think about until it really matters. In fact, I’d call UX writers the Florence Nightingale’s of user experience. Too much?

Is it worth it?

If you move from copywriting to UX writing, know that your writing skills are still one of your greatest assets. It won’t be smooth sailing, but the rewards are endless. For me, the best part has been learning about user experience — how to make things feel simple and easy to use. It’s totally worth it.

Thank you Evelyn for sharing your insights moving from copywriting to UX Writing. Interested in UX? Check out our open positions.

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