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UX Writing Over Coffee: UX writers talk about their workflow - Part 2

The second post in the series: Leading writers talk about their UX writing workflow and the challenges they face at work over a cup of coffee
Frontitude Team
February 24, 2021
4 min read

Catch up with the first post in this series, where we discuss with UX writers from Booking.com, LaurelRoad, and Coinbase.

While we build and develop Frontitude, our team speaks with many UX and product teams, discussing their content workflows, what challenges they face, and the tools they currently use. We believe that sharing this information with the UX community can take everyone’s work to the next level.


Our second post in this series focuses on writers, who are the ones who initiate and own content workflows within their teams. We took a couple of them, who work in big companies, for a short coffee break to discuss these topics.

So, grab your favorite coffee (or any other hot drink). We're waiting for you.

All set? So, please meet...

Interviewee ProfileInterviewee Profile

Could you describe the process of writing new UX copy in your team? At what stage it starts and who is involved?

Tom: UX writing process tends to evolve with team maturity in working with writers. 

Early on when I engage with a new team, the process tends to start with requests for help from product managers. They’ll say “We need help with the words!” Then they’ll start asking about specific UI. It’s important at this stage to take a step back and look at the overall picture. While the immediate need is one particular string for one specific feature, the string and feature don’t live apart from the rest of the product. At this stage in engagement, I often find there’s a need to define terminology.

As a product team engages more and more deeply with a UX writer, the process should evolve. Rather than a reaction to issues that have made it all the way into the code, thought about words happens earlier and earlier in the design process. At this point, designers might be asking questions like, “When we refer to X, do we use the term Y or Z?” 

If the terminology work done earlier has been successful, the crew learns that consistency in language can be achieved through documented lists of terms and definitions. This moves from tactical to strategic. How do we approach writing in the design process versus how do we fix the words that are in the app already.

Elisse: If I need to write brand new copy, whether it’s for an article or a product update, a product manager (or someone with an equivalent role) will create a ticket with the details, needs, and deadlines, and assign it to me. Usually, screenshots are provided to me that show the in-product experience so I can write the most accurate copy for the situation. Therefore, some product and design elements have already been cemented by that point, though that’s not to say they don’t change with future iterations. 

In most cases, I don’t directly communicate with a designer. Rather, it’s my role to explain to the user, with my words, the design they’re seeing. So in some ways, that’s beneficial because it helps me put myself in the shoes of the user who also doesn’t have access to speaking to an architect.

What do you find as the biggest challenge in UX writing?

Elisse: One of the biggest challenges is that writing is subjective. There isn’t a mathematical formula when it comes to word choice, no matter how many internal style guides are published. Therefore, there’s always going to be variance in your copy. A content designer may be responsible for providing copy for one section of the product, while another content designer on a completely different team may be responsible for copy in another section. And when you work at a big company like I do, that other content designer may be a complete stranger.

You try your best to have parallel language and similar verbiage throughout the customer journey, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. But hey, that sort of mimics conversational language, right? We don’t all talk in the same sentence structure with the same vocabulary, over and over again. Sometimes we say, “Hello” and other times we say, “Hey!” I think that’s a benefit of having multiple content designers working on multiple product elements.

Tom: The biggest challenge in UX writing today is the need to define it. It’s also a huge opportunity. 

4 years ago, when I first started filling the role of a UX writer, there were no books dedicated to the subject. There were no dedicated conferences and the community was hard to find outside others in the role in my company.

Today, this morning, before writing this, I’ve already referenced two books specifically on the subject of UX writing and have a third on my desk. They’ve, in turn, referenced me to three other books around IA and UX design. I’ve received an email from someone outside the company asking questions about UX writing. And, I’ve fielded a question in a company-wide forum about text in an app.

As UX writing becomes a more well-known role, it brings new challenges. The increased visibility brings increased demand and capacity trails the demand. We must find ways to enable others to do some of the writing work that we used to take on personally. That’s why my focus lately has been on writing about product content a little more than writing content in product.

"We must find ways to enable others to do some of the writing work that we used to take on personally." (Tom Resing)

What do you wish to improve in your UX writing workflow?

Tom: The number 1 thing we need in UX writing workflow is consistency. It starts with consistency on one feature crew. Then another. Then we can identify similarities in the workflows between crews. Then we can start to apply more consistent practices across teams.

Consistency is important for effective and efficient product results. To the end-user, it doesn’t matter that there could be hundreds of teams creating products for one company. They don’t care if two teams define two terms entirely differently. The end-user is using digital products to get something done. If the language we do presents a challenge to their goals, we’re not doing our work right. And, if we don’t establish consistent practices in a company, it creates more work across teams to get the language right.

Elisse: I think most content designers feel this way -- we wish we were looped in earlier. Instead of fielding reactive requests, we wish we were included in all kick-off calls and new product launch presentations. However, we often have little control over that workflow.
As for improvements I do have control over, I’d like to get better at the exploration and investigation phases of writing. I can get swept up in the fast-paced nature of my work which sometimes prevents me from providing the best copy. If I take just five minutes to slow down, I can better imagine all the use cases I’m writing for and really flesh out the context in which this message is being shown to the user. I may realize I don’t have the full context, and then I can get in touch with a teammate who can provide me with more details. This brainstorming helps me write the most effective copy for the largest amount of users.

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If you want to participate in one of our upcoming UX Writing Over Coffee posts, or suggest any questions for next posts, feel free to drop us a line.

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