Set yourself up for success when writing for UX

Loren Hakeney
Jul 8 · 6 min read

Working as a UX writer can be a real challenge. Getting your foot in the door is the first hurdle, followed closely by other obstacles like convincing stakeholders your new (and very mysterious) role is necessary to achieve great results. How can you make sure you’re prepared to impress? Let’s explore a few ways you can set yourself up for success when writing for UX.

The importance of a great brief

Great creative briefs are rarely brought to copywriters on the spot. We have to work with our stakeholders to make sure they provide us with the details we really need to know. It is therefore important that we are confident enough to ‘ask the stupid questions’ and cover all bases, so we don’t get ourselves in a pickle when we’re halfway through a draft later on.

It’s good practice to first establish a template that you can take with you to meetings or preparation sessions. Outline all of the questions you need the stakeholders to answer. If you’re not sure what this entails, take a look at this great brief breakdown by Belinda Weaver.

Bottom line is, make sure you’re getting more details than you initially think you need and prepare yourself to steer the conversation in a direction that benefits you. This can be a daunting task, as you don’t want to feel like you’re pushing any boundaries, but the reality is, copy meetings are often deemed informal, friendly, or even ‘quick’ by the stakeholder. This is frustrating as it makes us feel unimportant. Being equipped with a valuable brief from the get-go as increases your chances of creating exceptional copy, and therefore a great user experience, which is ultimately the most important thing.

Upon later reflection, if you’re unsure about something in your notes, don’t hesitate to ask questions until everything is clear. Guesswork rarely results in copy that shines. Send your notes to the stakeholder for them to check and approve if you need reassurance. Acknowledge that they are likely focused on what they want to achieve and pull the focus back to how you’re going to get there first.

Don’t stop there

So, you’ve got a great brief. You’ve spent a fair amount of hours preparing meticulous notes and you are ready to jump straight into the writing…but, not so fast!

It’s been said that good copy comes from spending 70% of your allocated schedule preparing, and only 30% writing. This means that effectively, to really set yourself up to write great copy, more time should be spent preparing at this stage.

I hear your thoughts, “I have a great brief, I have answered more questions than I ever thought I would, what else could I possibly need?” The short answer: user insight. Your brief has likely been established through discussions with stakeholders, project managers and other people who are leading the project itself. However, good user experiences are not built by gathering information about the brand, product or user story. They are built from understanding who might use your product, what they want and what they really need.

Dive into some research of your own, Google is certainly your friend at this stage. Draft user personas to truly understand the kinds of people who will use the product, this will give you a good idea of what they need to know. Competitor benchmarking can also be beneficial to understand your unique selling point, allowing you to clearly establish which parts of your brief to focus on. After all, you’re going to have to take your notes and condense them into effective microcopy, so understanding which ones to prioritise is vital.

“Every product has a unique personality and it is your job to find it.” – Joe Sugarman

One thing I feel like people tend to forget in our digital-focused, fast-paced business environments of today, is the importance of work spaces that actually allow you to work in the most optimal way possible.

Find an environment that really allows your creative ideas to flow and one in which you feel productive and comfortable. Do you work best in silence? Find a quiet part of the office or request to work from home on set days to get things done. Prefer to work around people or even listening to music? One of my favourite soundtracks for writing is the Maximum Concentration playlist on Spotify. I really find my groove when listening to music without lyrics, as I’m more likely to settle without being distracted or influenced by the words I’m hearing.

Also, I always make sure I have a big bottle of cold water and a snack by my side when I’m setting myself up for a few productive hours of writing. That way, I have pretty much everything I might need at hand. That being said, know when it’s time to take a break. It can be worrying to pull away from the laptop when you’re really focused, but taking 20 minutes to get some fresh air can be equally constructive.

Write, then write again

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Write, over and over again.

Excellent copy has never come from a first draft. Good writers tweak and refine their copy as many times as is needed to really get it right. And once you do have that final copy that you’re really happy with, ideally this should never be final at all.

Always check back on your content from time to time. Best practices change every day. There’s always new information, new ways of doing things, new features and releases. Your copy needs to evolve with these changes. Make sure that what you said before is still relevant today, make adjustments when market needs or customer uses change and analyse KPIs to ensure your content, style and structure are addressing any goals you set out to achieve.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ― Terry Pratchett

Although caffeine is a vital productivity ingredient for many, especially when it comes to a long slog of writing, what I mean to say is that organising conversations ‘over a cup of coffee’ is an extremely useful way to make sure you’re writing great user experiences. Besides, you can always opt for a green tea if that’s more your style.

Involve yourself in as many phases of the process as possible, from project ideation to release. It’s not uncommon for copywriters to be brought in halfway through a project, but don’t let this prevent you from getting to know the team and understanding what has happened before your introduction. Work closely with design colleagues to understand screens and wireframes that might already have been crafted. Connect with business analysts and project managers to truly understand the user story and any decisions will affect your creative direction.

Should you be lucky enough to be a part of the project from the start, ensure you participate in branding meetings with the team. Help craft the voice and tone of the product to ensure it’s truly reflected in your copy and you can check yourself along the way. If the opportunity presents itself, get involved in design sprints, workshops and user testing sessions related to the project. Not only are they a lot of fun and extremely informative, but they give you a new perspective that will allow you to understand your potential users in more detail than you could’ve hoped for.

How do you set yourself up for successful UX writing? Taking these steps into consideration is bound to improve your copy before you even begin. I’d love to hear your thoughts and any useful practices you follow in your routine, so don’t hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn or in the comments below.

Have a great day! 🌞

Loren Hakeney

Written by

Writer. Foodie. Explorer. Friend. // Lead Marketer & UX Writer at Accenture Interactive Amsterdam.