…but it’s pretty new as a defined, independent discipline and I’m totally obsessed.
When I was first hired as a copywriter at a startup, I kinda knew about marketing writing and I didn’t know a damn thing about product writing. Startups, being what they are, stretch every resource, squeezing every drop out of them, so it was natural to everyone involved that I would write for both departments. I knew I could write and I knew I could take direction and feedback and that I was a very fast learner, so I figured I’d manage. You know, “fake it ’til you make it” and all that.
While I wrote copy for both departments, I was officially on the Marketing Team and my mentors there were fantastic. I was lucky enough to work with and under real professionals who really knew their $hit. They were generous with their time and clear in their instruction; constructive with their feedback, and of course, extremely skilled at what it is we do.
Finding a product copy/UX writing mentor was somewhat more challenging because we didn’t have any of those I could cozy up to. Here, I think you’ll find my story is not unique: all over, companies are hiring their first UX writers, who are then left to leverage their transferable skills and an emerging body of knowledge and best practices, lean on each other and relevant user experiences of their own to forge a new field.
In my case, since the previous person who held my position was around, the company had grown and the product copy needs had evolved. For the first time, a writer who was deeply involved in UX was a thing. Previously, product managers would ask for strings towards the end of preparing a PRD, the copywriter would write them, and that was that. On to Translations. Now, the product copywriter is expected to have a real handle on UX and to be involved and collaborate with Design from the beginning (as it should be).
At the start I wrote for a DNA product, and my background in genetics meant that from day one I was asked for more than just words: I was being called in to consult on accurate terminology and how to communicate complex biological concepts to our main personas visually. Later I was asked my opinion on the progressive disclosure of the content in the UI, and eventually I came with my own opinions about when to introduce friction in order to improve user experience, and so on. And I didn’t know (almost) a damn thing about any of it. But I found it fascinating and so I started to read.
I joined UX writing Facebook groups and read every book and blog they recommended there. I asked our UX designers and PMs what resources they recommended and devoured them (the resources, not the experts). I went to meetups and lectures and listened and schmoozed. I went to conferences and took notes and networked.
I fell in love.
While marketing writing is shiny, product is deeply authentic. Marketing copy dazzles the user; product copy is a conversation. UX writing means balancing umpteen factors like space constraints, stage in the overall user journey and in the specific flow, brand voice, tone, multiple personas, translation, and on and on and on. It is a challenge and it is so fun. It involves so much social science research (read The Man Who Lied to His Laptop by Clifford Nass if you haven’t already!) and user research (make your Usability PM your best friend!) and evolving best practices (buy The Ultimate Guide to Microcopy by Kinneret Yifrah if you haven’t already, keep it on your desk always, and reference it often). Excellent UX writing is the product of (see what I did there) fluid, crystal clear, on-going communication with Design and Product, Research, Marketing, and most importantly, the user. It is collaboration and synergy embodied. I could go on…
After a mini-career in journalism and a decade-long dabble in science, I have found my passion. At least for the foreseeable future. I wish this daily enthusiasm and satisfaction on us all.
Inspired by Andrew Hughes at Wix
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