First, earn your place at the whiteboard

Increasing impact and influence as a UX Writer. Art: Nate Haywood (@heynate88)When it comes to product design, evolving ideas from paper sketches to shippable interfaces requires serious attention to detail. But all too often the words that get placed on the screen slip through the creative cracks. This bad habit of addressing copy after the mocks have been finalized occurs with even the best of designers. However, very few design specialists feel this pain more than the UX writer, often tasked with kissing the lorem ipsum frogs in an attempt to turn slap-dash copy into a prince. There are ways to mitigate the reoccurrence of circumstances like this (though they will indeed still happen). By tapping into some of the skills of your cross-functional partners you can both scale your content and assert the importance of UX writing as an essential and preliminary function of design. Write like a poet Unless you’re building a poetry application, by no means do I suggest slipping haikus and sonnets into your UI. When I say that UX writers and content designers should write like poets, I mean they should pay attention to the flavor and tone of every last word you put into the interface. Every word should be intentional. If for a second you can’t defend a word choice, you’re likely dealing with a word (or more) worth sending straight into the recycling bin. Good writing is effective writing. As a UX Writer, you’re both a designer of the product and an evangelist of the brand. You ensure that your interface is humorous when it’s appropriate, serious when relaying sensitive information, but above all else easy for any human to read and comprehend. Keep your language so simple an 8th grader could understand it. Being adept at grammar won’t help your UX if a user has trouble comprehending what you’re trying to say. Toss away any unneeded punctuation and swap out trisyllabic words for shorter ones. Hack away at flowery wording and industry jargon until your copy sounds like it came from an actual person. UX writers should be masters of the writing craft. You should learn when it’s appropriate to use a period over an exclamation point, have a perspective about whether or not a sentence should end with a preposition, and strive to copy edit with surgical precision. Writing, much like design or engineering, is a practiced skill. While many can do it, not everyone can do it well without training. There are tons of style guides available to help strengthen the technical aspects of your craft. The AP (Associated Press), Chicago, or/and the MLA style manuals are great resources to harden foundational writing skills. A personal favorite of mine is Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. This book proves to be both a humorous read as much as it is a resource for writing well. Investigate like a researcher The easiest way to trigger a self-inflicted case of writer’s block is to open up your text editor with no prior information about your user. User research is fundamental to product development. Research allows you to figure out who your user is and what they need from your technology. Research also informs how you should write for them. Gathering user insights can be done without a huge research team or an enterprise consulting budget. There are plenty of free and low-cost tools you can use to gather data that both informs UI language as well as product development decisions. Look at competitors and speak to your customers If you can find similar products or services on the market this is great news! It means that an audience does exist for your product. It also means you can find out who they are, what they like, and — most importantly — what they don’t. If your product already has users, that means you have people who are already invested in your brand. Take advantage of this. SurveyMonkey, Google Surveys, and UserTesting.com are great tools to help you start to discover trends and insights to develop your product. Surveys, cafe studies, and in-person interviews are all things a one-person research team tackle. So there’s never an excuse to start a design project without data. See like a designer Design is problem solving. While some problems are simple, others require complex solutions. Designers are called to understand the big picture and then to plot a step-by-step experience that resolves an issue. The great thing about plotting things step by step: all you need is pen and paper! Try writing down your user journey in the form of a bulleted list. Next, flesh out the journey even more by creating sub-bullets under each step you’ve identified. Continue reviewing and reorganizing your list until it becomes crystal clear all the things that need to happen, the order they need to happen in, and the copy that needs to be included to guide the user through the experience. Next is the fun part! Try sketching some wireframes and begin plugging your content into the appropriate areas. You’

First, earn your place at the whiteboard
Increasing impact and influence as a UX Writer. Art: Nate Haywood (@heynate88)When it comes to product design, evolving ideas from paper sketches to shippable interfaces requires serious attention to detail. But all too often the words that get placed on the screen slip through the creative cracks. This bad habit of addressing copy after the mocks have been finalized occurs with even the best of designers. However, very few design specialists feel this pain more than the UX writer, often tasked with kissing the lorem ipsum frogs in an attempt to turn slap-dash copy into a prince. There are ways to mitigate the reoccurrence of circumstances like this (though they will indeed still happen). By tapping into some of the skills of your cross-functional partners you can both scale your content and assert the importance of UX writing as an essential and preliminary function of design. Write like a poet Unless you’re building a poetry application, by no means do I suggest slipping haikus and sonnets into your UI. When I say that UX writers and content designers should write like poets, I mean they should pay attention to the flavor and tone of every last word you put into the interface. Every word should be intentional. If for a second you can’t defend a word choice, you’re likely dealing with a word (or more) worth sending straight into the recycling bin. Good writing is effective writing. As a UX Writer, you’re both a designer of the product and an evangelist of the brand. You ensure that your interface is humorous when it’s appropriate, serious when relaying sensitive information, but above all else easy for any human to read and comprehend. Keep your language so simple an 8th grader could understand it. Being adept at grammar won’t help your UX if a user has trouble comprehending what you’re trying to say. Toss away any unneeded punctuation and swap out trisyllabic words for shorter ones. Hack away at flowery wording and industry jargon until your copy sounds like it came from an actual person. UX writers should be masters of the writing craft. You should learn when it’s appropriate to use a period over an exclamation point, have a perspective about whether or not a sentence should end with a preposition, and strive to copy edit with surgical precision. Writing, much like design or engineering, is a practiced skill. While many can do it, not everyone can do it well without training. There are tons of style guides available to help strengthen the technical aspects of your craft. The AP (Associated Press), Chicago, or/and the MLA style manuals are great resources to harden foundational writing skills. A personal favorite of mine is Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. This book proves to be both a humorous read as much as it is a resource for writing well. Investigate like a researcher The easiest way to trigger a self-inflicted case of writer’s block is to open up your text editor with no prior information about your user. User research is fundamental to product development. Research allows you to figure out who your user is and what they need from your technology. Research also informs how you should write for them. Gathering user insights can be done without a huge research team or an enterprise consulting budget. There are plenty of free and low-cost tools you can use to gather data that both informs UI language as well as product development decisions. Look at competitors and speak to your customers If you can find similar products or services on the market this is great news! It means that an audience does exist for your product. It also means you can find out who they are, what they like, and — most importantly — what they don’t. If your product already has users, that means you have people who are already invested in your brand. Take advantage of this. SurveyMonkey, Google Surveys, and UserTesting.com are great tools to help you start to discover trends and insights to develop your product. Surveys, cafe studies, and in-person interviews are all things a one-person research team tackle. So there’s never an excuse to start a design project without data. See like a designer Design is problem solving. While some problems are simple, others require complex solutions. Designers are called to understand the big picture and then to plot a step-by-step experience that resolves an issue. The great thing about plotting things step by step: all you need is pen and paper! Try writing down your user journey in the form of a bulleted list. Next, flesh out the journey even more by creating sub-bullets under each step you’ve identified. Continue reviewing and reorganizing your list until it becomes crystal clear all the things that need to happen, the order they need to happen in, and the copy that needs to be included to guide the user through the experience. Next is the fun part! Try sketching some wireframes and begin plugging your content into the appropriate areas. You’ll begin to get a sense for whether your headlines are too long, whether you need to swap one CTA for another, and how the overall interaction of the UI should progress. Voila! You’re a UX designer. Taking it a step further… Get familiar with design tools. Though sketching in a notebook is tons of fun, learning how to turn your paper prototypes into digital mocks will bring your content design and UX writing to the next level. Figma and Sketch are great design tools to cut your mock-making teeth on. Getting familiar with them will create an instant love connection between you and your design colleagues. But if it proves to be too much of a hassle, Google Drawings, Slides, and Microsoft Powerpoint are all great tools for you to get in the habit of creating digital mocks. Learning how to lay out your copy digitally makes your solutions more accessible to design peers, product managers, and other stakeholders. It also frees you from having to guide them through the experience aloud. Good copy won’t fix bad design. At some point in your career you may be convinced, by yourself or by a colleague, that all a design needs to be complete is the perfect word. Sometimes this may be true. Other times — it’s a trap. Never fool yourself into thinking that good copy can fix bad design. For many web products, the language is the most important part of the experience. On occasions it may be better to toss those “nearly-finished” mocks straight into the waste bin rather than attempting to toss copy into a wonky interaction Think like an engineer Art: Nate Haywood (@heynate88)Verbs need objects, inputs need outputs, and a codebase needs semicolons as much as a novel needs punctuations. I draw these comparisons to illustrate that writers and programmers are alike. Indeed, I would venture to say that UX writers have even more in common with programmers than their visual design counterparts. At the root of both writing and software development is logic. After all, there’s a reason why developers build things using programming languages. Languages are systems in and of themselves. They have rules that can’t be broken, they evolve over time, and nothing good happens when they’re written incorrectly. Conditional logic requires conditional copy. Thinking like an engineer means thinking holistically about the system in which you’re writing. While engineers have to build for all the possible scenarios that can occur in a process, the UX writer has to be able to articulate all the destinations, missteps, and redirects a user may encounter in the interface. Indeed, these missteps and edge cases are where clear and concise writing really shine. Getting the user back on the ‘happy path’ means knowing exactly what threw them off-course in the first place. Getting into the habit of thinking on a systems level not only makes your writing that much stronger, but it sets you up to be a powerful collaborative force alongside your engineers. If your engineers are thinking of the ifs and thens, your responsibility as a UX writer is to think of the what ifs and what thens. Not only will this type of thinking save time by allowing you to prepare conditional copy in advance, but you’ll likely find yourself posing questions and offering solutions your highly-technical teammates hadn’t yet considered. Have an opinion If at this point you’re still someone who’d like to think of UX writing as merely copyediting, then the article ends here for you. However, if you’re a UX Writer who believes that writing is integral to design and product development, then I will grant you the last and perhaps most important piece of advice: Have an opinion. Have an opinion on the design, the systems logic, the business needs, the journeys, and every aspect of the end-to-end user experience. Having an opinion is by far the most important thing you can do to have an impact as a UX writer. Your writing prowess may have earned you a seat at the table, but your ability to articulate your ideas will secure your space at the white board. Ask questions unapologetically, make suggestions deliberately, and be the force factor that creates thoughtful design solutions through language. Words are part of the design system and they are also your secret weapon. So as a writer, never be afraid to use them. Language is an adhesive that holds an entire product experience together. The worst thing you could do is sit idly until someone decides to ask you whether or not a sentence needs a comma. You’re a writer. Never be afraid to have the last word. Hey, I’m JR. Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up with my thoughts on writing, design, and user experience. First, earn your place at the whiteboard was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.