4 ways to show the value of UX writing

When user testing isn’t an option

Jennie Tan
Oct 30, 2018 · 5 min read
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Illustration by Justin Tran

It happened last year, when I was interviewing for a UX writing position.

After I presented a writing sample in front of a room of people, the sole researcher in the group asked, “Did you test your copy in front of users?”

I winced. No, I didn’t, I had to admit. It would have been great to have worked with a researcher to do some testing, I added, but we didn’t have time for it.

When you can’t test your content in front of real users, does that mean it’s not valuable? Not at all.

Here are several ways you can show your team the value of good UX writing, all without user testing.

1. You follow your company’s content style guide

A content style guide is a document that explains how your company’s customer-facing content should be written. It usually includes rules for grammar, punctuation, terminology, and voice and tone.

Aligning your content to a style guide means it sounds like it’s coming from one voice and one brand. It helps your customers feel confident in your product.

If your company has a content style guide, make sure your content follows it, and that people know you follow it. Before long, your team will see you as the go-to person for the style guide. That’s showing value as a UX writer!

If you’re working with existing text, a nice little “before and after” does the trick. If not, you can show a range of different explorations, and then mark the option that matches most closely to your company’s style guide.

For example, let’s say you’re working on a confirmation message, “File saved.” Your content style guide promotes quietly playful content.

You could offer a few suggestions, from conservative to super casual:

File saved.

File saved, nicely done. ⭐️

Congrats on saving the file.

You saved the file. Let’s do a happy dance.

Yo mad props on saving the file.

You might add a star ⭐️ to “File saved, nicely done” as the one that most closely supports quietly playful. You can then say, “I wrote content that supports our content style guide and uses the voice best suited for our customers.” ✅

2. You write at a lower grade reading level

Writing at a lower grade level helps people understand your content faster. Aim for a 7th grade reading level or lower. This also helps non-native speakers.

Run your text through a tool like Hemingway or readable.io. If your text reads at an 8th grade level or higher, keep tweaking.

Once you’re done editing, you can say, “I rewrote the text at a sixth-grade level, making it easier to read, even for non-native English speaking customers.” ✅

Here’s an example of UI text run through Hemingway.

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3. You write scannable content

When people read on the web, they’re likely browsing for specific words or phrases that are meaningful to them.

By making your content scannable, you help customers get to the words they need in the fastest way possible. But don’t take my word for it. Read what usability expert Jakob Nielsen says about How Users Read on the Web (this article is 21 years old and more relevant than ever).

  • Break long paragraphs into shorter ones.
  • Rewrite short paragraphs as bulleted lists.
  • Add headings to break up content into digestible sections.

Show the before and after, and then say, “I made the content more scannable, saving our customers time getting the information they need.” ✅

Here’s an example of making content more scannable.

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4. You use words people search for

By choosing words that people most commonly use in online searches, you’re showing customer empathy by writing “in their own words.”

My favorite tool for this is Google Trends, and my favorite example of this is the classic clash of sign in vs log on. Besides the fact that sign in sounds more conversational and less technical than log in, it’s also the term that is more searched on by web users.

Google Trends confirms this. Just screenshot the chart and insert it into your content spec, and say, “I updated the content with terminology people search for the most.” ✅

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Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.

Showing the way is leading the way

Explaining your wording rationale is part of the UX writing job. Using the tips in this article can help your team understand your wording decisions are grounded on reasoning (and not on a writer’s whim).

And if you work at a company that is new to (and maybe, unsure of) UX writing, your rationale can help put the team at ease.

And lastly, a plug to #steeryourcareer

Follow these tips to show the value of good UX writing. Not only to the teams you work with now, but to the teams you might work with in the future.

Yes, I’m talking about at your next job.

By including rationale in your portfolio samples, you’re showing your thought process and your depth of experience. Hiring managers love to see that.

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I passionately believe in documenting your work and letting people know what you can do. I wrote more about this in my article, How I landed a UX writer job at Dropbox.

You’re the best person to #steeryourcareer. Do it diligently! Like regular flossing, it’ll pay off in the long run. 😁

How do you show the value of good UX writing? Please share in the comments.

A big thank you to Andrea Drugay and Justin Tran for their contributions to this article! 🤗

Want more from the Dropbox Design team? Follow our publication, Twitter, and Dribbble. Want to make magic together? Check out our open positions!

Dropbox Design

We believe joy is the engine that powers the best ideas.

Jennie Tan

Written by

UX Writer @dropbox. I craft words that help people get things done. Also #TheOffice superfan and breakfast burrito lover.

Dropbox Design

We believe joy is the engine that powers the best ideas. We’re designing a more enlightened of working, so you can love the way you work. More on dropbox.design.

Jennie Tan

Written by

UX Writer @dropbox. I craft words that help people get things done. Also #TheOffice superfan and breakfast burrito lover.

Dropbox Design

We believe joy is the engine that powers the best ideas. We’re designing a more enlightened of working, so you can love the way you work. More on dropbox.design.

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