5 Ways to Unleash Your Inner UX Writer

Start writing effective user flows and software messages in no time

Jody Allard
Jul 8 · 5 min read

In a perfect world, every designer or program manager would work with a team of UX writers. But in the real world, designers and program managers (PMs) are often the ones creating the user flows and writing the words customers see in their software — with little or no help from writers.

We’re lucky to have multiple teams of UX writers at Microsoft, but that wasn’t always the case. Even now, many companies still don’t have UX writing teams or their UX writers are stretched too thin to partner as collaboratively as they’d like, leaving design and PM to tackle it themselves.

When you hear the term “UX writer,” you probably think about, well, writing. UX writers do more than write, however. They act as customer advocates, considering every aspect of the experience from the customer’s perspective. If you don’t have a UX writer to work with, you’ll need to fill that role too.

For some designers or PMs, the opportunity to craft the entire customer experience is exciting. For others, it’s a little bit terrifying. No matter how comfortable you are with UX writing, here are some simple ways to up-level your UX writing skills.

  1. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

All the best writers start by copying other writers — and then by adding their own touch. Look for examples of great UX writing in your company and across the industry to get started.

Have an app or product you love? Ask yourself what makes it so awesome. How do the words shape your experience? Chances are, they’re short and sweet and get the point across without overloading you with information.

Consider how the writer played with their company’s brand voice to deliver an experience that’s intuitive and engaging. Don’t be afraid to experiment within the confines of your own company’s brand voice too.

2. Say goodbye to Lorem Ipsum

Skipping over the words in favor of Lorem Ipsum until the end of the development cycle might be common, but it’s a missed opportunity.

Dan Fraser, a UX designer for Microsoft Office, writes UI strings early to get feedback during weekly design meetings. “I make a point of asking people if the writing makes sense, not just the design or flow,” he says. “Anything we can do to simplify the process is critical, and a lot of that is led by the words people read.”

By including draft strings in your prototypes, you’ll benefit from feedback at every stage of the process and be able to take advantage of your peers’ diverse experiences and perspectives.

3. Stay focused on what customers really need to know

Chances are you’re working on this product or feature because you believe in it. It’s no wonder you want to share your excitement with the customer and tell them all about it. But we live in the age of information overload where we often have 5 seconds or less to drive our point home.

Effective UX writing answers three questions: What’s the product? What does it do? How does it add value? Thankfully, you don’t need to answer all those questions in every string you write.

When you start to write a UI string, ask yourself: What’s the one thing the customer needs to know right now? How does that relate to what they needed to know on the last screen, and how will it relate to what they need to know on the next screen?

Ruth Kikin-Gil, a designer for Microsoft Office, suggests using a balancing analysis to figure out which of the three questions to focus on at each moment of the journey. Then, stick to one key takeaway to make it easy for customers to understand the experience.

4. Kill your darlings

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my writing career, it’s that my most deeply cherished sentences are often the ones that really need to go. As lovely as a turn of phrase might be, it has no place in software unless it’s playing an important role.

Jessica Yang, a PM for Microsoft Intune, begins her writing process by writing down everything she wants customers to understand and ends by getting feedback on the strings from everyone from her peers to her friends. “What I think is simple can be hard to follow,” she says. “It’s helpful to have another pair of eyes who can spot when I’m being convoluted.”

Stephanie Blucker, a UX writer at Microsoft, suggests writing out the entire concept you want to convey and then narrowing it down by identifying the key elements. Once you’ve got tighter copy, Stephanie says it’s time to put it out there, even if it doesn’t feel ready — knowing you’ll use the feedback to improve the strings.

5. Have a conversation with your customers

Gone are the days of lengthy manuals and confusing screens full of commands. Modern UX writing is about crafting simple, engaging experiences. “Today, a lot of what we’re going for is more conversational and friendly,” Jessica says. So lighten up, have fun with it, and look for ways to have a conversation — not a monologue.

Of course, the best way to have a conversation is by giving your customers a voice. This could take a variety of forms, such as A/B testing, speed dating, or customer surveys, but no matter what method you choose, create a channel for customers to give feedback and devote resources to addressing it.

UX writing might sound overwhelming, but these tips will help you write more effectively and gain confidence in your skills. When in doubt, remember to keep it simple. When you approach UX writing with the understanding it’s an iterative process, it’s easier to let go of your preconceived ideas about what makes good copy and put the customer in the driver’s seat. Shakespeare may have been a brilliant writer, but his style of prose has no place in your next feature.

Are you a non-writer writing UI strings? What tips and tricks do you use to craft your copy? Tell us in the comments!

To stay in-the-know with Microsoft Design, follow us on Dribbble, Twitter and Facebook, or join our Windows Insider program. And if you are interested in joining our team, head over to aka.ms/DesignCareers.

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story at a time.

Jody Allard

Written by

UX writing manager for Microsoft Edge and Office. My writing has appeared in CNN, WaPo, CityLab, The Guardian, Vice, Buzzfeed, etc.

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story at a time.

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