FAQs from UX writers around the world

I’ve had the privilege of speaking to UX writing communities around the world. One of the most interesting and exciting parts for me is learning about the different communities’ unique challenges. Lately though, it’s the similarities that made me stop and think. In San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Lausanne, Portugal, and at global conferences, some of the same questions come up again and again.

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I heard a podcast once with Torrey Podmajersky, who said that she was inspired to write her book, Strategic Writing for UX, after sitting down to lunch at a UX writer conference and hearing writers raise challenges her team had solved. Why are we all reinventing the wheel? Someone’s gotta write down these solutions — knowledge sharing can only propel us all forward! And so, in that vein, I bring you a few of questions that I’m asked again and again.

First, define “success”. What is the question you are trying to answer and which metric can help you answer it? Don’t just measure what you have the infrastructure in place to answer, and don’t just A/B test because it’s sexy and compare CTR, before you ask the bigger questions of what your specific goals are and how you define achieving them.

For example, if success is higher revenue, don’t just measure number of purchases; you also need to measure the amount of each purchase. Sometimes your copy might increase one and not the other and sometimes increasing only one of them is actually important.

For example, if success is signing contracts, don’t just look at speed of flow completion without looking at support calls complaining that you made the flow so frictionless that users completed it without fully understanding what they were signing. Lowering drop off and speed of completion seem like clear, obvious metrics, but there is a reason we sometimes introduce friction in order to improve user experience and understanding the terms before you sign them is one of those instances.

In short, “how do you measure success” doesn’t have a single answer because it changes for everything your write and it’s critical to choose a metric that indeed reflects your goals, which is not always as intuitive as it sounds.

As always, know your audience. What motivates your stakeholders? If it’s hard cold cash, I’ve shared a bunch of content on the ROI of UX writing that can help you make your case. Once you know what your stakeholders care about, talk to them about UX writing through that lens. No one has the attention span to hear ALL the great things there are to say about UX writing, focus on the points that will resonate.

Also, include your stakeholders early in your process. UX writers talk a lot about getting seats at tables — try inviting stakeholders to your table! People are far less likely to push back against their own work, so collaborate from day one. Even try pair writing a few screens with a designer or a product manager. Once they feel ownership over the copy, buy in isn’t an issue because they’re not agreeing with YOU, they’re confirming their own work. It only take a few times for them to appreciate your process and value your expertise, and also feel the ownership that makes the difference between reviewing your idea and feeling good about their own.

A lot of companies struggle with ownership, including which content is owned by marketing and which is owned by the UX writers. To make it work, the first step is to drop the ego at the door. Owning projects for the sake of owning projects should not be a thing. You both have the same goal, of an incredible customer experience. You are on the same team.

Asking questions like: Whose expertise is most relevant? What is the business goal of the content and which team’s mandate best aligns with that? Who writes the touch points immediately proceeding and following this content? Sometimes, it might come down to who has the bandwidth, or who is more familiar with the user segment or stage in the funnel.

Once you go through all that, if you still can’t figure out who should own a task, co-own it. Pair write or iterate in a way where both writers are giving and getting feedback and both sign off on the final version; neither is only a reviewer who provides feedback which the other may or may not decide to include.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to handle the tension that seems to universally come between marketing and product writers, but when you start with the understanding that you’re both trying to create the best experience possible for the end user and you are both aiming for the company to succeed, things get easier.

Design shouldn’t be “giving you space”. We are in a post-lorem ipsum world! Talk together about the goals of the component. What needs to be communicated here ? Will more concise copy increase the chances users read and internalize it, or will it leave out importanat messaging so the user ends up more confused than before they read it?

Also, writing for UI isn’t just about the amount of space, it’s also about the structure of the content, or the content design. I might have enough space for everything I need to communicate, but it’s in the form of a paragraph, when this particular piece of content will better serve the user as a bulleted list. That’s something you and the designer should be able to work together to make happen.

It always helps to sit together. If you’re a UX writing sitting with marketing writers, see if you can move to sit near the UX designers at least part time. It makes a huge difference.

UX writer specializing in complex products. Passionate about making tech accessible to mass markets. Also a proud em dash enthusiast.