How to get into UX writing (a field guide)

A lot of folks have asked me lately about switching careers into UX writing. I love helping others discover this completely badass life path, but at this point I need to save myself some time. Hence, this blog post.

Not 100% sure what UX writing is? You’re not alone. You might begin with this article.

My career trajectory (in a nutshell)

My career transformation from medical receptionist to UX writer at a big tech company took about 3 years. Hopefully with a handy guide like this one, it doesn’t have to take you that long.

Remember: we are all making it up as we go along. You will always be learning. In that regard, there’s no separation between you and a seasoned senior professional.

I came to UX writing from a customer support and copywriting background. I handled tech support and software configuration, then I started doing copywriting in a moment of sheer financial panic. I discovered that I loved writing, and realized that I wanted to marry it with tech to make the internet a better place to be. 

Next, I worked at a small software company where I was able to create support documentation, design training, and write customer-facing emails. At the same time, I picked up freelance clients on the side to do content marketing work. I marketed myself to tech companies, because I had some industry experience and was just beginning to find out about the magic of UX writing.

Soon, I decided to go full-time freelance. I used the extra time to teach myself about UX design, and to build my business. Clients started asking me to write interface copy, and I marketed myself primarily as a UX writer. Once I built up my portfolio, I started landing interviews with big tech companies.

I worked a 10-month contract at Intuit, and shortly after leaving that position managed to land a full-time role at LinkedIn, where I work now. 

There’s no one right way

You can come to UX writing from almost any educational background (I trained as a theatre director! No joke!) Any humanities major can do this, if your writing skills are top-notch. Here are a few less-obvious qualities that can help you succeed as a UX writer. 

  • You love people. Understanding people and an overdeveloped sense of empathy is a requirement for this job.
  • Strategic vision is your jam. If you’re good at defining a communication strategy and bringing a team along with you, you’ll be super valuable.
  • You’re detail-obsessed. Obviously, everything has got to be proofed. No editors here, it stops with you.
  • You’ve got a knack for concision.  Shorter is almost always better. As a UX writer, cutting the fluff (without sacrificing meaning) is a fundamental skill.
  • You ask hard questions. You’ll be asked to fix things with words. A lot. By asking the right questions, you can help sharpen designs with more than just words.
  • You don’t mind that writing is only 5%. Crazy, right? If you love churning out words, this job is not for you. It’s quality, not quantity. A ton of research, communication, and understanding has to happen before you write any words at all.

Free(ish) learning opportunities

Medium

I strongly recommend a Medium subscription. It’s an excellent platform for both people who want to read about design, and people who want to write about design (you should do both!) Their partner program lets you get paid for your writing—put up a few quality articles, and you can easily cover the $50 yearly subscription.

Some of my favorite publications:

UX + Content Slack

This community is very active, and totally badass. You’ll find conversations about process, interesting current articles, and job opportunities(!!!) Plus general nerdery. I have a strong “These are my people!” feeling when I look at this group.

UXW challenge

Get UX writing assignments sent to your inbox. A nice push to build up your portfolio. 

Books on a shelf

Paid learning opportunities

I want to emphasize that you do not need to pay for a course to break into this field. Your portfolio matters way more than any credential. 

However! If enrolling in a course helps you learn and develop your portfolio, you have some options. I haven’t taken them myself, but these are where I might start:

If you’re looking for an accredited program specific to UX writing…I haven’t heard of that yet. I’m currently enrolled in the UCSD Extension UX Design program. It’s helping me expand my portfolio beyond writing, and the cost is covered by my employer (bonus!)   

Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio

Post-File Email Portfolio piece
A pretty pared-down portfolio entry.

Your portfolio is extremely important. 

It is not important that your portfolio be:

  1. Extremely slick
  2. A complete account of all the work you’ve ever done
  3. Perfect

It is important that your portfolio be: 

  1. An accurate representation of your best work
  2. A clear, succinct reflection of your thought process 
  3. You

You do not need to have written professionally in order to create a UX writing portfolio. You can go ahead and redesign the content in an app, and put that in your portfolio. You do not need to ask anyone’s permission. Go forth, conquer, etc. 

If you already have writing samples that aren’t UX writing, these can also be useful to your portfolio. Just be sure to explain the thought process behind the work.

 If you’re considering your audience and using language strategically, you are already practicing the fundamental skills behind UX writing. Show that.

Be proud of your past work, even if it doesn’t reflect the work you want to be doing. Don’t apologize for what you’ve given to the world so far. Explain it, and position yourself as best you can as an up-and-coming UXer. You can always go back and replace your old work with newer stuff that better represents your developing skills.

Here are some UX writing portfolios that might strike your fancy.

A word on branding

If you have some budget to spend on your burgeoning UX writing career, I would recommend investing it in your personal brand. A polished website that sets you apart from other writers is a complete game-changer. I know it sounds silly—why do you need a photoshoot to prove you can write words?! 

All I can tell you is, people buy from people they know, like, and trust (blah blah blah…) Use your website to show off your whole self, not some muted corporate version that you think will be deemed acceptable. 

If you’re curious, Mel Judson did my website, she’s fabulous. Tell her I sent you.

Plus, you’ve got a huge advantage when it comes to branding. You can write. Get out there and show ‘em what you got.

Books I’ve read, and recommend for UX writers

Finally…

Writing is an incredibly powerful tool. Wield it well. Write responsibly. Teach others how to do the same. Best of luck on your UX writing journey.

P.S. Go ahead and connect with me, I don’t bite

https://medium.com/@kayraus

https://www.linkedin.com/in/katherine-karaus/

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