There are a lot of different definitions we’ve come across for what UX writing actually is. Some see it as a discipline all its own, while others define it as an integral part of Content Design. Edgar Allan falls into the latter of those two camps. We see UX writing as a piece of the content design process — a narrower focus that deals primarily with directional text — buttons, CTAs, and other text that is part of the framework of a site but isn’t necessarily messaging or marketing copy.
If you’re looking for a hard and fast definition though, there’s one that sticks out to us from the UX Content Collective. They define it as “the practice of crafting customer-facing text or copy that appears within the design of digital products.”
It’s a great definition, but we like to think of it as crafting user-facing and user-guiding text that appears in the designs of digital products. This tweak on the UX Writer’s Collective quote is something outlined in a course by a great UX Writer, Dr. Katharina Grimm, and it really resonates. Why? Because it brings the user to the forefront and also clarifies what UX writing is about: clarity and guidance.
When it comes to the applications of UX writing, think 404 errors, tooltips, success and error messages, and CTAs. Basically, it’s any written element that’s meant to keep a user in your product and guide them toward the goal of conversion.
What’s the connection between storytelling and UX writing?
With UX writing, we think it’s a “why not” kind of situation. If you’re putting so much time, effort, and expertise into every other written element of your website, why not extend that to other elements of your site?
Aside from that, it all forms part of telling one cohesive story across the entirety of your site or app. Extending your brand’s story into UX writing not only helps solidify who your brand is, it makes for a more appealing web or app experience and gives users a really clear idea of who you are.
Really good UX writing also adds to your brand’s story in other ways too. It makes it clear that you’re a brand that cares about your users, and not just because you want them to convert. It shows that you’re willing to put in the effort to help them get what they need by crafting inclusive content that guides them effortlessly, even if they rely on screen readers and other assistive technologies.
Overall, thinking audience-first should be a start-to-finish journey that’s bolstered by UX writing. It begins with brand definition by creating an appealing story, position, and vibe that extends through the execution of a website. When you use UX writing to keep that thread intact, you’re ensuring that every decision is connected, consistent, and aligned — and stronger for it.
The six main factors of UX writing
UX writing needs to tick a lot of boxes to serve its purpose. And while each of the below points is super important to consider, always remember that you don’t need to over-index every single one of them to produce a good piece of UX content. Sacrifices often need to be made, and if you need to choose clarity, conciseness, and usefulness over branding, then do so.
Good UX writing should be:
Ask yourself if what you’re writing solves problems that design alone can’t. Part of the whole point of UX writing is to ask yourself if text is even necessary to convey a message. If not, don’t write it.
You have very limited space to work with when writing for UX. So extra attention should be paid to making it as unambiguous as possible. There isn’t room to be flowery when what you’re trying to do is avoid misunderstanding.
Efficiency is key to UX writing. Your users need to get guidance and answers as soon as possible. Your goal is to reduce cognitive load as much as possible so your users can get what they need to get where they’re going.
Probably one of the most important items on this list. Aside from having to help users navigate and use your product, UX writing needs to be designed to keep users inside the product, getting them whatever they need to answer their questions along the journey to conversion.
Always be as conversational and empathetic as you can be with UX writing, keeping in mind to remain non-technical (it’s all about reducing cognitive load, remember?) Of all these, I would say that non-technical and empathetic text trumps conversational text, but it’s really up to you and what you think your users will benefit most from.
UX writing gives you even more opportunities to convince people who your brand is and give it a fully fleshed-out identity that’s unique and builds user trust. It’s the opportunity to turn your product into a fierce brand ambassador and leave a really great impression on users.
Examples of effective storytelling in UX writing
There’s no shortage of excellent examples of great UX writing out there. So many brands are doing it right and reaping the rewards that come from telling a complete, compelling story. Take a look at these three examples and our thinking behind why they hit the mark as well as they do:
Merriam Webster’s 404 page.
While not the most concise it’s really well crafted in terms of the content. It lets you know exactly who they are in really fun ways. And it also helps the user figure out what to do next, albeit at the bottom of the page which isn’t ideal. (If anyone at Webster’s is reading, hit us up! We’ve got lots of thoughts. 😀)
Headspace’s 404 page
Another example of beautifully branded UX copy that’s not only helpful but puts the user’s mind at ease and gives them a couple of options for what they can do next.
An error message from Uber Eats
It’s concise, tells the user what happened, lets them know what’s happened isn’t their fault, and quickly guides them on what to do next.
To tell effective stories for brands, you need to use every tool available to you. And every brand should have the support of UX writers to take their storytelling to the next level while always putting all of their users first. It’s a strategy you can leverage to take your brand’s story to the next level, presenting not only a cohesive picture to users, but an accessible one as well. Adding to the narrative of your website and brand in ways that feel authentic, connect with your audience, and bring them along for an impactful, more empathetic, journey to conversion.