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What is a UX Writer? Examples from Uber, Apple and Grammarly

Published 10th February 2021 10 minute read
"It's UX writers who are behind the formulation of error page messages, copy for registration forms, and those nuggets of help text you find on a website or in an app"
What is a UX Writer?

A UX writer's goal is to write functional text in plain language to guide users through different digital experiences found on a website or app. They make these experiences seamless and intuitive. And, even though there is some overlap with other disciplines such as content strategy and UX research, UX writers have a narrower, more specialised focus on creating content for users of digital products.

UX writing diagram
Above diagram: UX Writers Collective

It follows then, that a UX writer's 'natural habitat' is at a software/technology company, where they work to help users access, understand and ultimately reach something they need or want from that company; whether that's buying a digital product, signing up for an app, or even getting some assistance from customer service.

Contents

In this guide, we'll closely examine the world of UX writing and uncover what the role of a UX Writer entails. We'll look at:

The difference between a UX Writer and a Copywriter

What makes this role different to that of a content writer or copywriter? The answer is simple (and the clue is in the job title!) - user experience (UX) remains the writer's top priority at all times, so the content they produce needs to work hand-in-hand with visual and interaction design. In contrast, a copywriter's main priority is to help market something successfully in order to sell it.

It's UX writers who are behind the formulation of error page messages, copy for registration forms, and those nuggets of help text you find on a website or in an app (these wondrous little snippets of useful information are referred to in the industry as 'microcopy').

Here's a simple table which shows the main differences between a UX writer and a copywriter quite nicely:

Copywriters vs UX writers
The difference between copywriters and UX writers

Responsibilities

The duties of a UX writer extends far beyond the creation of microcopy though. Typical responsibilities can include:

  • Leading on user research and testing copy
  • Evolving and governing a brand's tone of voice (ToV) guidelines
  • Collaborating with teams such as marketing and product development to help align brand and product copy

You could also think of a UX writer as part of a product design team; helping to mould and shape an app, website or digital feature at the very start of the development process. Here's what one practitioner working at Facebook says about this approach:

"We maintain simple, straightforward and human language to talk to our community across all of our products, and to do this we get involved early on in the product design process."

— Natalie Shaw

Key skills

The UX writer role requires a 'problem-solving' and a 'problem prevention' mindset.

"I love how words can solve complex design problems (for example, clear instructions can help users overcome error-state conditions)"

— Nick Babich

says UX writer and UX designer Nick Babich. Nick knows his stuff; he's a recognised figure in the field, and also manages the popular online UX resource, UX Planet.

Laura Parker is a content designer and UX writer who works as a contractor for HMRC Digital:

"I think the job of a UX Writer is to be an investigator. We investigate the problem, the user, the environment, potential bias, our assumptions, our work. Everything needs investigating."

— Laura Parker

UX writers like Nick and Laura make it their mission to discover the right balance between accessibility, usability and staying 'on brand' (e.g. using the right tone of voice in copy). Getting this balance right can positively impact a brand's digital product adoption levels, but it can also influence higher levels of brand advocacy in its users too.

Other key skills companies look for when hiring a UX writer can include:

  • Writing experience directly related to UX - so this could be webpages, apps or digital products.
  • The ability to work flexibly on different copy formats; ranging between microcopy and long-form content.
  • Having a firm understanding of what product design means - and how this works alongside business strategy.
  • The ability to collect, analyse and interpret data; from applying tracking to knowing how to analyse results so that insightful conclusions can be drawn.

We know that good UX can positively contribute to how users see a brand by listening to industry experts like Marissa Phillips, Head of Content Strategy at Airbnb, who said:

"The way we communicate across these surfaces influences how people feel about our company."

— Marissa Phillips

So, it's no coincidence that household names such as Facebook, Spotify, Google and Airbnb rely on specialists such as UX writers (and UX designers) to ensure their digital offerings stay commercially successful for the long-term.

Challenges

Your process can be misunderstood

Like other areas of UX - research and design for example - UX writing isn't always fully appreciated by other colleagues (and organisations as a whole) as the kind of craft that warrants a complex working process. This can lead to mismatched expectations on timings and outputs.

"Maneuvering through this is hard, but it's a good opportunity to educate others on the value of what I do."

Riri Nagao, Senior UX Writer, American Express

Staying up to date with the latest thinking/techniques

There's growing competition in the fast-paced field of user experience, so staying ahead of the newest trends, practices and thinking is of utmost importance for UX writers; whether you're new to the scene or someone with several years of experience under their belt.

"A simple Google search on any UX-related subject will provide you with an endless flood of articles. The UX writing community is fueled by writers, and boy do we write. You could spend all day, every day reading and never get to the bottom of the pile.

That's why it's a good idea to follow your favourite UX writing groups online. You'll be fed constant reading tips and can contribute to (or just spy on) the discussion around these topics."

Anja Wedberg, UX Writing Hub

Keeping continuously motivated

Where there are long-term internal challenges of being misunderstood and underrepresented by colleagues who aren't as au fait with the skill, this can feel quite emotionally draining at times. It's a symptom of the fact that the role isn't as long-established as many others you'd find at organisations big and small, even if the tide is turning on this now - for the better!

"What inspires me to open my laptop every day are our user stories. They're the source of my greatest learnings and motivation.

I get to hear so many real stories of how our work helps people with everything from saving time to physical safety. Some leave me speechless, even teary-eyed. Our work as UX-ers is so much more important than we perhaps realize."

Tiffany Lee, UX Writer, Lyft

An ever-changing landscape of UX job titles

Over time, the user experience field has given rise to a range of similar sounding or evermore specialised-sounding job titles. As a result, you can often find inconsistencies in job titles and job descriptions.

For someone working in UX therefore, it's important to stay in the know about how the industry landscape is changing and where each role fits within the broad discipline of user experience.

"Whether you're deciding on your next career move or trying to define your role within your current company, it's important to stay informed. Browse job sites like Indeed for an idea of the kinds of UX roles that companies are currently hiring for.

As you research, you'll start to get a feel for the skills and responsibilities associated with different job titles. This will help you when it comes to marketing yourself as a UX professional and building your personal brand."

Emily Stevens, Managing Editor at Career Foundry

What do hiring companies look for in job applicants?

Diving into the current job marketplace reveals a raft of generally quite similar job descriptions. Because of the complex and multi-layered nature of the UX writer role, it demands a varied skill set, and candidates should expect to possess all of the following in order to stand a chance of being hired:

  • A practitioner of the Agile methodology
  • The ability to apply technical experience and know-how to workable prototypes
  • A strategic thinker who can understand the big picture as well as the tiny details
  • The ability to effectively manage relationships with stakeholders so that they can collaborate and consult with them to reach the right user solutions
  • User-focused and capable of working towards the needs of those users
  • The ability to make the most complex of concepts or processes easy to understand

As well as the above, it's plain to see from current job descriptions that companies are also looking for candidates who can really 'cheerlead' the cause when in post.

Take these examples from Uber, Apple, and Grammarly, amongst others:

  • "...understand your audience and make decisions that reflect their best interests" (Uber)
  • "...dream about positively affecting the lives of millions of people" (Apple)
  • "Believes that great stories can change hearts and minds" (Grammarly)
  • "Influencing changes in culture..." (Bumble)
  • "Challenging yourself and the team on how we work..." (Tide)
  • "...evangelising for readability, usability and creativity" (Skyscanner)

There's a real desire for applicants who are willing to inspire new ways of working and embed real internal change at their organisation.

Luckily though, this can be found in droves in the general population of UX writers. Start a UX-based conversation with any of these savvy specialists, and you'll soon witness passion and pure conviction running through their answers.

Dominic Warren, a UX Writer and Content Designer at Brandwatch told me:

"It's so helpful and important to condense complex, technical information into something that's understood by most people. Words are the part that users interact with the most. It makes sense to give them the proper consideration needed."

— Dominic Warren

And Laura Parker's view on the importance of good user experience is crystal clear:

"Having an inaccessible product or service in 2020 is unacceptable."

— Laura Parker

Analysing job descriptions

We've done a deeper analysis of some key parts of job descriptions from:

We've also added links to the full job descriptions if these are useful to have a look at.

Grammarly

UX Writer

Grammarly say that this role will be part of their wider Copy Team, and the aim of the role is to:

"...write the words that attract, onboard, and continuously engage the people who use Grammarly."

As is conventional, they'll also be working alongside a team of designers, but they state that this will be the first role of its kind at Grammarly:

"As Grammarly's first dedicated UX Writer, you'll build on an existing body of work while establishing the UX writing discipline at Grammarly. You'll have the autonomy to create delightful user experiences alongside your Design partners, and will help shape the product components of the Grammarly style guide..."

They also set out a roadmap for the successful candidate's first 12 months, which is obviously helpful for setting applicant expectations, but also shows what the hiring company is expecting of its successful applicant!

"Within your first 30 days, you'll become immersed in Grammarly's product strategy, our internal style guide, design philosophy, and existing user experiences...

By month three, you'll know the Grammarly style guide and product design process by heart...

By month six, you'll have influenced not only copy but also the design process..

By year one, you will be able to implement and maintain a consistent content strategy throughout Grammarly's product, across interfaces and user touchpoints."

Here is a link to the full job description

Skyscanner

Senior UX Writer

Skyscanner express in their job description that they always "put the traveller first", and that this is integral to their digital product.

"We're looking for a UX writer who'll be responsible for our communications on the front-line, creating and curating user-interface content across our website and app to develop a two-way conversation with our travellers."

They're looking for someone who can help them build a consistent brand through the UX writing approach:

"As our business grows, so does the importance of strong, consistent messaging. We need someone who can help us bring creativity and clarity to every brand touchpoint..."

They are keen to find someone who can really put themselves in the place of the end user/customer of Skyscanner too:

"...sometimes we forget that not everyone speaks like an engineer. That's why we need ...someone who understands how we work and can interpret the most complex concepts in a human way."

Skyscanner are looking for someone who loves the discipline, and who has a fair amount of experience under their belt already; willing to work with different teams and able to jump straight into the role:

"Your portfolio speaks for itself. You've earned your stripes in UX writing and have the projects to prove it.

Working with translation teams doesn't phase you. Writing software strings for a product gets you out of bed in the morning."

Here is a link to full job description

Apple (Apple Pay)

UX Writer

Owing to the recent growth of their Product & Design team, Apple are looking for a UX Writer to join them and focus on Apple Pay.

"In this role, you'll be in charge of interface copy for Apple Pay, Apple Card, Wallet, and other ways that people make payments or use passes."

Amongst the skills required for this position, Apple make it clear upfront that a great deal of deep consideration of different business areas will needed when carrying out the role:

"Are adept at advocating for users while simultaneously understanding the interests and importance of privacy, security, anti-fraud, marketing, and engineering."

A genuine passion for Apple's brand and products is important to them:

"...know and are excited about evolving the Apple ecosystem of hardware, software, and services (Mac OS X, iOS, Apple Music, App Store, Books, Podcasts, Apple Pay, Apple TV, etc.)."

Similarly to many other job descriptions we've seen, a portfolio is needed when applying for this UX writing role:

"Please include these in your application:

- A link to your online portfolio

- Your CV or LinkedIn profile"

Here is a link to the full job description

Uber (Uber Eats)

Senior UX Writer

Working with the Product Design team, the successful candidate will not only be working with words; there's a real sense that Uber gets the fact that there's a designer element to the role here:

"Yes, you'll be writing. But you'll also be encouraged to understand your audience and make decisions that reflect their best interests. You're a designer—and words are your design language."

As it's a senior role, Uber is looking for applicants who already have solid, long-standing experience of UX writing and working with digital products:

"5+ years of experience writing content for software interfaces."

Uber is looking for someone who can help them create effective user experiences on a global level - and they're also interested in seeing the evidence behind the decision-making:

"...create compelling long-term strategies that allow content to scale globally. ...Use metrics and research to inform and validate your work."

Like many other job descriptions we've seen, there successful applicant would have an active role in gaining 'buy-in' from internal stakeholders for whomever takes up the position - as well as challenging decisions and preconceptions when it's warranted:

"A willingness to pitch ideas to cross-functional partners and an understanding of when it makes sense to push back."

Here is a link to the full job description

Pay and progression

In the US, salaries for UX writers vary widely. In fact, according to Glassdoor the spectrum begins at the $59k mark and reaches all the way up to $128k - so an average salary of $85,277 is to be expected. Here are a few examples of some roles being advertised and salary amounts (correct at the time of writing):

A UX Writer's salary (US)

Via LinkedIn Salary Tool

Experience Annual salary range Average salary
1-5 years $51k - $144k $93,500
6-14 years $75k - $181k $122,000

Via Glassdoor

Company Title Expected salary/range
Facebook UX Writer $118K - $126K
Dropbox UX Writer $48K - $52K
Google UX Writer $119K - $129K
Fundbox UX Writer $78K - $84K
AT&T Senior UX Writer $96k - $103k
Airbnb Lead UX Writer $166k - $183k
Spotify Senior UX Writer $140k - $159k

(All information sourced from Glassdoor.com, Feb 2021)

A UX Writer's salary (UK)

The average salary for UX writers in the UK ranges between £35k and £58k, and it feels like the marketplace is still shifting towards the 'real truth' when it comes to salaries. One indicator of this is that, unlike the US market, no current data reports on average salaries exist on big recruitment sites like LinkedIn, Payscale and Glassdoor.

"The field is progressing slowly, but there are still a lot of disconnects on our "narrative" within the tech industry. It's really up to writers like us to elucidate and evangelize to our networks and workplaces."

Tiffany Lee, UX Writer at Lyft

It's likely because, historically, the roles of content strategist, UX writer/designer and content designer have overlapped and 'collided' with each other across organisations.

This state is acknowledged by many, including Yuval Keshtcher, Founder of UX Writing Hub:

"Many companies have changed the name of the role from 'Content Strategist' to 'Content Designer'. Others still like to call it 'UX Writer'. I feel that job descriptions are a bit all over the place right now, but at the end of the day, companies are looking for product people that know how to write words in the right context."

— Yuval Keshtcher

Dominic Warren concurs:

"I think there's also a growing sense of what the roles and their differences are. Slowly we're seeing the confusing mix of 'Content Strategist', 'Content Designer', 'UX Writer' separate into their more exact definitions. This is a sign of an industry that's found its feet and is really maturing."

— Dominic Warren

The career path for a UX writer is one full of options. Due to the job overlaps we've described above, it's perfectly possible for a UX writer to:

All of these paths may eventually lead to 'Head of' or 'Director' type roles.

Breaking into UX Writing: Advice from the professionals

Rachel McConnell
Rachel McConnellLinkedIn icon Content operations @ BT

"I recently remembered an article in which I'd been asked what skills I thought good UX practitioners need to have. Off the top of my head I came up with 3 Cs. But in hindsight I'd say there are 4 of them:

  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

We're often told these skills are the 'soft' side of design. I disagree. Tools, methods and techniques can be learnt. It's much harder to learn the Cs."

— Rachel McConnell

Read the full article

Andy Welfle
Andy WelfleLinkedIn icon UX Writer and Content Strategy Manager @ Adobe

"Many beginners think they have to work on a big project, with a big name. That's not true — hiring managers want to see your process, and way of thinking. Working on a small project with friends is a perfect way to showcase your talent and put something in your portfolio.

These projects could open doors while you hone your craft at the same time. You might even get a referral or a positive testimonial to put in your portfolio and personal website. The more advocates of your work you have, the closer you are to landing a new gig!"

— Andy Welfle

Read the full article by Andy

Anja Wedberg
Anja WedbergLinkedIn icon UX Writing Hub

"Do you have to take a course? No, you don't. But it does give you several advantages if you're keen to get going: You show future employers that you have taken the effort to learn.

If you're new on the scene it's also a fab way to get some practical experience and start producing samples that you can use in a portfolio."

— Anja Wedberg

Read more of Anja's advice in her article for Career Foundry

Kinneret Yifrah
Kinneret YifrahLinkedIn icon Microcopy (UX) Writer & Voice and Tone Designer @ Nemala

"When I started writing microcopy I knew very little about UX, but I was an aware user who gets annoyed with bad UIs and highly appreciates those which made it easy for me or moved me.

So, even if you currently don't know what a drop-down does or how a tooltip looks, that should not deter you from entering the field. But once you do, don't be shy: ask about every little thing you don't understand and listen carefully to everything said around you, until you get the basic principles and working language.

If technology excites you, this will happen rather quickly."

— Kinneret Yifrah

Read the full article by Kinneret

Jennie Tan
Jennie TanLinkedIn icon Staff UX Writer/UX Writing Lead @ Dropbox

"Make a habit of archiving portfolio-ready work. Create a to-do item for yourself, maybe once a month, when you gather your screenshots, word explorations, content specs, feedback from PMs, user research, final content pieces, etc. in a format that you can easily pull into a portfolio later.

It is so much easier to archive your work when it's still fresh in your memory, rather than looking for a needle in a content haystack, months later."

— Jennie Tan

Read Jennie's original blog

Staying top of your UX writing game

When talking to UX professionals such as Yuval Keshtcher, you quickly discover that even those with years of experience under their belts acknowledge the need to keep themselves updated and upskilled on the latest practices. Yuval shares that he is currently working through a course in data analytics:

"I find the connection between words, data, and design fascinating, and creating data-driven experiences is something that I want to get more into in 2021.

"It will help me to test headlines, buttons and emails in a better way and will create a better communication channel with any product research and analytics teams that I'll work with."

— Yuval Keshtcher

Dominic says that he's hoping to return to more blogging activity in 2021:

"I think regular writing, outside of the pressures of work, really benefits the skill. It also allows you to develop and engage with your thoughts and theories."

— Dominic Warren

In terms of future professional development, Nick says he wants to focus more on optimisation copy for voice-based interactions (mastering UX writing skills for voice-first experiences), as well as mentoring junior UX designers and writers.

Resources

Given the required responsibilities, skills, and experience we've identified above, here are some useful links to resources which include content on:

  • What a UX writer role involves
  • How to work towards becoming one
  • Views and perspectives from people already working in the profession

Courses and educational programmes

UX Writer's library

Articles

Books

Content Design
by Sarah Richards LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 5 Aug 2017

"Discover the power of designing completely user-based content."

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
by Nir Eyal LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 4 Nov 2014

"Eyal provides readers with practical insights to create user habits that stick."

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content
by Ann Handley LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 15 Sep 2014

"A go-to guide to creating and publishing the kind of content that will make your business thrive."

Microcopy: The Complete Guide
by Kinneret Yifrah LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 23 Jan 2019

"This is the only guide you'll need to write smart, effective microcopy (UX writing)."

Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
by Steve Krug Twitter icon Published 24 Dec 2013

"It's one of the best-loved and most recommended books on the subject."

Microcopy: Discover How Tiny Bits of Text Make Tasty Apps and Websites
by Niaw de Leon LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 13 May 2017

"Discover how tiny bits of text make tasty apps and websites."

Conversational Design
by Erika Hall LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 1 Jan 2018

"Get to know the human interface and learn why conversation is the best model for creating more human-centered design."

Strategic Writing for UX
by Torrey Podmajersky LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 9 Jul 2019

"You'll learn how to write strategically for UX, using tools to build foundational pieces for UI text and UX voice strategy."

Writing Is Designing: Words and the User Experience
by Michael J. Metts LinkedIn icon Twitter icon and Andy Welfle LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 14 Jan 2020

"This book will show you how to give your users clarity, test your words, and collaborate with your team. You'll see that writing is designing."

Websites

  • UX Collective A Medium publication dedicated to all things UX.
  • UX Planet The 'one-stop resource' for everything related to user experience.
  • UX Writing Hub A 100% online UX writing education platform.
  • UX Magazine Exploring, promoting, and discussing the realm of experience design for more than two decades.
  • UX Movement An independent publication with a focus on UX tips, techniques, and best practices.
  • UX Booth A publication by (and for) the user experience community.

Webinars, videos and recorded talks

Podcasts

Online communities and groups

There are many well-established online hubs and communities that you can get involved in if you're working in UX writing. Here are just a handful:

Conferences and events

  • Button This online conference is specifically designed for people working in product content.
  • Confab An online event covering everything content strategy - including UX writing and design.
  • UtterlyContent A global online festival for content strategists, content marketers, content designers and UX professionals.
  • Content By Design Two days of talks and workshops focused on the role of content within design.