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Iteration is a UX writer’s best friend

Too often, UX writers are brought onto a project a few days before the designs are handed over to engineering. They are asked to wave their magic wand and make the words ten times better. But in the given timeline, all UX writers manage to do is ensure that the words don’t suck and that “receive” is spelt correctly.

But UX writing can go beyond proofreading and making the copy shorter. It can be delightful in places. It can make the user feel heard and reassure them that behind the screen is a human just like them.

To raise the bar for microcopy, writing, like design, has to be iterative. Most writers know that the first draft of anything is bad.

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Here are four ways for UX writers to build iteration into their process:

Understand Jobs To Be Done

UX copy should always be clear and concise. These goals will never change. But by talking to product and business teams, writers can understand the user needs and the organisation’s goals. Jobs To Be Done push writers to think about how copy can nudge users to take action or not.

This allows for multiple versions of copy that focus on different goals and then choose the most appropriate one. It will also enable writers to identify opportunities to deploy microcopy to delight the user.

Ban lorem ipsum

Designers typically work on wireframes, then a low-fidelity design and finally a higher fidelity design. It helps to follow a similar progression for microcopy - start with a rough draft to an average draft to copy that users will find helpful.

By banning lorem ipsum, writers are compelled to work on copy throughout the design process, rather than just at the end. This gives them time to improve the copy with every iteration.

Take a look at this example from a grocery shopping app. From wireframes to low fidelity designs to high fidelity designs, copy also changes and becomes sharper.

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Work with designers

For a user, the design of the interface and the copy on the interface aren’t two different elements. A user doesn’t interact with them in isolation. Designers and writers shouldn’t work in silos either.

Working sessions where designers and writers work together and contribute to each other’s work help the quality of what finally goes out in the world. The range is helpful: designers often suggest copy and writers develop design solutions.

Take your time

Most people don’t realise that typing and writing aren’t the same. Writing isn’t just the act of writing — a large part of the process is invisible. Often, timelines don’t account for this complexity and writers lose confidence in their approach, feeling pushed to create an output instantly.

A senior Atlassian content designer recently told me, “Writing is just 20% of your work as a UX writer.” To let good work happen, writers must take their time exploring options and thinking through them.

Building iteration into UX writing helps teams pick the best option among many good ones. And by thinking about why one version works better than the other, microcopy moves from being “incidental” to “intentional”!

This article was originally published on the Obvious blog in 2022.

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