How to Collaborate with Your UX Writers (By a UX Writer)

In today’s tech industry, it’s not enough to have software that works. You need software that’s intuitive, beautiful, and has great content. That next-level product requires a magical team of designers, researchers, developers, and one craft you may still be getting to know: UX writers.

Not sure what a UX writer is? Open your favorite app. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Take a look at all the words across its buttons, headers, and notifications. A person wrote all that. If the company took their user experience—and content—seriously, that person was a professional UX writer. (Okay, maybe I don’t have to convince you to hire a bunch of language-loving nerds. I am biased.) But whether you’re a small startup or a titan of tech, once you’ve gotten UX writers through the door…are you sure you know how to work with them?

Understand what your UX writers actually do.

Knowledge Institute for Small Business Development

Too often, UX writers are boxed into the office grammar checkers. But they’re a far cry from stodgy copyeditors and English teachers spending the day correcting comma splices.

Whether we’re talking about hardbacks or hard drives—writers, at their core, are storytellers. They can massage the complex technical information of your software and put it into something all users love: a cohesive narrative. They can explain the what, why, and how, making any product better and more human. Plus, they will do it while taking care of your bottom line. Need more purchases in your app? Want your brand to shine? UX writers craft the small bits and pieces of copy to help you influence and empower your users in a way that creates an experience, not a transaction.

Include your UX writers early and often.

The UX Careers Handbook

At the start of a project—whether you call it a kick off or a briefing or phase one—make sure your UX writers are on the invite list. I promise this isn’t to boost their ego. For writers to be successful, they need to understand a project’s origin story, including what are you trying to solve, which audience are you trying to help, who the stakeholders are, and how success is being measured. They don’t just need that information; they need to hear it directly from the team. Remember in 3rd grade when you played Telephone? The punchline is still true in your office. The farther someone is from hearing the root message, the more likely they won’t get it right. (Though, this time it won’t be as funny.)

Pay for the extra license. Writers need the same quality tools as designers.

“Drive, Sketch, Invision & some peace of mind” by Victor Janin

Let’s say you have two new hires, a visual designer and a UX writer. You give the designer the works—a fresh Macbook Pro, retina displays, and access to lots of juicy design programs. You turn to the writer and ask if they were able to sign in to Google Drive. One of these employees is set up for creativity, the other for mediocrity.

To be clear, I’m not advising you blow your budget on everyone you employ. (Your writers probably don’t need those retina displays.) But they do need to get in the trenches with their visual design counterparts. They need to dig in the Sketch artboard to fiddle with the length and look of their words. They need to play in the UX Pin prototype to feel the cadence of modals, banners, and messages. They need to make notes in the Invision files to ask questions and give real-time feedback. If you don’t have productive, efficient collaboration yet—check the tools you’ve given everyone.

Stop using lorem ipsum. Every time you do, a UX writer goes to die.

Business Insider

I’m kidding. But they are full-body cringing. Lorem ipsum, the filler text designers use to show where they want copy to appear, is a big red flag. Especially in the early stages of a project. Using filler text is a sign that copy (aka the narrative that’s so critical to your user experience) hasn’t influenced the design. Instead, your writer is now playing a game of defense, filling in the blanks without the chance to add, remove, or shift copy to the locations it’s needed most.

And because designers don’t always know when to cut back on text, another fall out companies need to worry about is users’ short attention span. People read only 20% of the text they see on a single screen. That means, the more words your writer has to put into the software—the less likely users are going to find what they need. UX writers should always help evolve a design, putting in content (or taking it out) in the best places.

Words aren’t a bandaid for poor products.

WeClipArt

As you know by now, I believe UX writers are VIPs in design teams. But they do have a limitation. They can’t make up for your product’s shortcomings. Here is one of the worst positions you can put your writer in: Walk into a meeting, list all the technical hiccups in a project, and say, “So, we just need one sentence at the top of the page to explain it all.”

Your UX writers want to help you, and they want to create the best copy under any circumstance thrown at them. But there are about 171,000 words in the English language and the average English speaker knows a mere 20,000–35,000 of them. That’s a limited resource to pull from. So while they can pack a punch with a tipsy or a call to action, it doesn’t feel great to MacGyver your software together with a couple vague buzzwords and jargon. And it certainly isn’t the best long-term strategy for you.


Have any more insights for collaborating with UX writers? I’d love to hear them!

Cait Emma Smith, M.A.

Written by

Writer, design lover, book devourer, after-hours poet, and expert parallel parker (she/her) | www.caitemmasmith.com

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