UX copywriting (UX writing, in short) is a bit different from writing for marketing. The two main differences are the length of your copy and the to-the-pointness that you need to be aware of.
UX writing means you’re working on the text in the application user interface (UI). It’s about all sorts of labels, hints, pop-ups, explanations, and error messages. There is no room for storytelling, metaphors, or sophisticated puns. Clarity and brevity are the most important values for each UI writer.
When you think about the user interface or your web apps, it may seem like the basic tool for writing copy is nothing else but an IDE of some sort. That’s where you do the software stuff, right?
But wait, how about…
Good old pencil and paper
Too obvious? When you start with paper and pencil it means you’re on the lookout for how to develop an idea. You want to play around a bit till you get to that creative stage where you can share the copy with somebody.
On paper, you can also prototype, play around with alternate arrangements of the UI elements. That’s more than just wordsmithing. You can sketch the context, boxes, or anything that encloses, bounds, or limits your GUI text. It’s fast, cheap, let’s your brain draw and create to help you focus, and allows you to nurture many ideas.
Words, words, words. That’s what we do. Finding the right word to rule them all isn’t so simple, especially when your accuracy needs to be 101%. Some ideas aren’t instantly right, so you’re always standing guard and searching your mind for replacement terms.
Thesaurus.com ownz for many reasons. The number of suggestions it offers is always impressive. You right away get the feeling the right one is somewhere in the list.
It works in the web browser (there’s an app as well) and it’s fast. It’s also optimized for your speed. Quite often, people wait for you from designers, web developers all the way to product owners. When you work on a quick fix, you need tools that won’t slow you down, tools that help you make the right word choices faster. You can filter the search results by parts of the speech. You can visually filter your search results. You can highlight common or informal words (pretty useful if you’re avoiding pompous and cold tone of voice).
Thesaurus.com is the Roget’s Thesaurus on steroids. A tool that supports people who dig into words.
Firebug or DevTools
Seeing is believing. When you need to fix an existing GUI text it’s best to do it right by what you’re working on. When you’re working with web applications tools like Firebug or Chrome DevTools are a real gem. With the help of these browser extensions you can make decisions straight in the browser. You don’t need Photoshop or other design-oriented software. You don’t need to access any mockups at all.
Click “inspect the element” and you’re ready to check how the label looks in the current environment. Enter the new wording and get an answer to all your questions: does it fit in its container, does it wrap, is it too long, will it break the layout if we make it two lines… What’s important is you’re operating within the context of the entire page. You can quickly spot repeating words or inconsistencies in terminology.
The in-browser editing helps you see how the text behaves on smaller screens, all you need to do is to resize the browser window. Yes, you can make your labels responsive as well 🙂
Your ultimate tool for clarity. It’s as valuable for just paragraphs as it is for long texts. And paragraph-long explanations in the GUI aren’t that weird these days. Hemingway will tell you how complex (and how difficult to understand) your sentences are. Then it combines this to score the entire piece you’ve written. It will ruthlessly hunt down all instances of passive voice, words that have simpler alternatives, or adverbs. In the user interface you need to be clear and straightforward so as not to stand in your user’s way to success.
Twitter’s here, not because it’s great for being up to date with thought leadership, or all the industry news. It’s here for its 140-character limit. And all consequences this has on the way you express your ideas. Call me “irrational” but I love their character limit.
Having twitted over 600 times, I keep practicing how to express my thoughts in just a few words. Conciseness is one of the most important things when it comes to nesting instructional text in the product. This is what you learn with Twitter. 140 chars and you need to make your point, fit in all the hashtags, and URLs. Pretty much like in the UI, where most of the time you literally squeeze the text in.
Spelltower, Spell color, or any other word game
Back to the words, words, words business… Where are all the words stored, associated, and brought to life? Your brain. Even if it’s not a muscle you still need to exercise it to stay fit.
Fit here means resourceful at finding new and simple words. Why not combine fun and practice to keep your lexical genius fit? Word puzzle games keep your cerebrum flashing with cleverness for new labels and product feature descriptions.
How do you get through the day?
UX driven products rely on accurate microcopy that’s delivered fast. Agile teams and continuous delivery methodology make the copywriter part of a dynamic process. UX writer’s day is often hectic and filled mostly with word challenges. You have to deal with a lot of planned tasks, as well as lots of immediate ones. You always need to be consistent with your entire product ecosystem, and you need to be quick. UX copywriting is a relatively young discipline (although we’ve had product copy for ages). Standard procedures don’t exist yet, and the supporting processes are still being worked out by trial and error in numerous teams.
We work on the web, mobile, desktop apps in countless technologies. Anything that supports us is priceless. Be it pencil or an arbitrary game…
If you’re a UX writer – how do you survive through your day? Do you go with the flow or use heavy machinery to move forward? Please share your thoughts and load the comments section with some testimonials.