The first time I was asked to write some copy for a widget, by my colleague Sophia*, I had no idea what she was asking.
“Hey Susan, can you get that widget copy over to me within the hour?” she pinged me.
“Oh yeah, totally. I’m on it.” I messaged back.
Shit. What’s a widget? I thought.
I looked around at the 100 or so people busy at work and freaked out a bit.
What if one of them saw me Google “What’s a widget?”
They all knew, surely, but I couldn’t ask them. I was the copywriter for crying out loud.
I surreptitiously typed in my query. This was the result:
Just fantastic, I was no closer to knowing what I was meant to write.
I wish I’d had Keywords Everywhere installed at the time. If I had, I would have felt less alone. 140 people are searching for this very same query a month.
Swallowing my pride, I walked over to Sophia’s desk and whispered, “Um, what’s a widget and what copy do you need exactly?”
The look she gave me. Half compassion, half who-the-fuck-hired-you. I could’ve died.
But luckily for you, I didn’t. Because I can now create this amazing resource for you.
NOT knowing all the industry jargon should never be a reason for you not to take a potentially lucrative job. You’ll never work again.
When I started “UX writing” I didn’t know what it was, it didn’t have that name yet.
I also didn’t know what “digital products” were, but I was helping design them.
A lot of new terms have come into our lexicon over the past decade and if you’re new to UX writing, it can be intimidating AF.
I know, because I’ve been there.
Ready to get stuck in?
productTDigital products: We’re talking mostly about apps and websites. Now don’t be fooled into thinking apps are mobile-only, there are also web versions which people use on their desktop or laptop computer. Similarly, websites can be used on mobile.
Website: As a general rule of thumb, this is the domain of a traditional copywriter. Its primary function is to provide the user with information. That’s the content you’ve been busy writing in your copywriting career.
Web apps: Apps don’t just exist on your phone, they come in desktop versions as well. This can often cause confusion to the newly initiated. Designed for someone to complete specific functions. All copy here is designed to help someone perform a specific task.
User: The person who is interacting with the digital product on a phone, tablet or computer. Also sometimes referred to as the “end-user”.
UX (user experience): Just as the name suggests, this is the process that creates meaningful experiences for the users of a digital product.
UI (user interface): These are the screens users interact with to use the products. Buttons, headers, forms, icons, and more all make up the UI of a product.
UX writing: The words you see on any digital product. The main goal is to guide the user through the process towards an end goal.
Copywriting: Writing for marketing materials like brochures, websites, sale pages, social media, billboards, advertising intended to sell products, digital or otherwise.
(It’s important to understand the difference between a marketing website intended to sell a digital product, that may also be a website or web app)
Microcopy: So this is where it gets tricky. Microcopy is any small piece of copy. That might be as part of UX writing for digital products (such as labels or tooltips) or copywriting for marketing websites (such as CTAs).
Button: Pressing a digital button, much like pressing a physical button, will lead the user through to the next step in the process. They contain a label called a CTA. (See below)
CTA (Call-to-action): A short command for your users to do something, usually appearing on a button.
Form: This is where users can input personal information that’s relevant to the digital product.
Tooltip: Little helpful messages that pop up when a user hovers over a small icon.
Empty state: Think of an empty box, it’s the same thing. Essentially it’s part of the product that should have something in there (messages, contacts, images, badges, wishlist items etc), but doesn’t yet.
Modal: A small box that can appear when a user taps a CTA, requesting another action to be taken before the original action is processed. For example, it may ask the user to confirm that they want to proceed despite not filling in certain information.
Progress bar: Shows how far along the user is in completing a process. You commonly see these during the payment/check-out process.
Breadcrumb: The type of navigation usually found at the top of a website that helps the user understand where they are on the site.
A/B testing: Also known as split testing, this is how you can accurately see which version of your copy is most effective. To test accurately the two or more variants should be significantly different while everything else about the experience remains the same.
Product teams: The groups of people who work together to build products.
Product Managers (PMs): These are the big-picture thinkers. They are responsible for the delivery of the feature or product you are working on. Business goals are important to them.
UX designers: You’re essentially part of the UX design team. A UX designer works alongside you figuring out how the product should function. Their goals should align completely with yours.
UI designers: The UI designer looks after the visual side of things. They’re responsible for designing components that work harmoniously across the entire product.
Front-end development: These are the folks who code what you see, also often referred to as the user interface (UI). A common question you might ask a front-end developer: “Can we create a drop-down menu here?”
Back-end development: This is where information like numbers or someone’s name is pulled from, like databases and servers. A common question you might ask a back-end developer: “Can I pull that number from the back end?”
Strings: These are little pieces of code that stand-in for what you want to write. Usually, you will give the copy you’ve chosen together with the code string first to the translators and then to the developers to insert into the rest of the code. When the string is inserted in the code it will pull through the relevant translation by language.
Hardcode: This is when the developer writes copy directly into the code (bypassing the strings). They usually do this because it’s fast or they just want to see what it will look like with words. However, it means your copy can’t be translated or pull in dynamic fields (like dates or numbers). It’s a real problem in the UX writing world.
Localisation: This is the process of transforming your copy into other languages. It goes beyond translating and takes into account the messaging, strategy and other technical requirements of the copy.
User story: This is an essential UX writing tool. Like the name suggests it’s a brief story that gives context to the copy you’re writing. Once the copy has been defined in the original language it’s then forwarded on to the localisation teams so they have the context required.
And finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for …
Widget: A mini-program, like a really simple app. It draws information dynamically and usually only performs one function. Like showing the weather for example.
We’ve only just begun …
This is really just the beginning and I’ll continue to add to this list over time. Drop a comment below if you think there’s something that needs to be added or if there’s anything you’re unclear about.
Want to know more about the difference between copywriting and UX writing? Get the goods here.
Ps. I used Career Foundry’s article as a reference for this post. However, I chose that article because it aligned with my experience. Terms do tend to vary depending on what country you’re in (in Australia I’ve noticed developers often get called engineers, for example), so I’d love to hear any different terms you’ve come across in your career.
*Not her real name, but I do wish I knew more Sophias. DM me if you’re a Sophia. We can be friends.