What's the difference between a UX writer and technical writer? You're likely here to know who you should hire, and - if you are a writer, decide which job is right for you. In today’s digital world, technology is a part of our everyday life, so we depend on gadgets, smart devices, and software. This is where UX writing and technical writing helps us in their own ways.
Here, we describe what technical writing and UX writing are and their evolution, along with exploring the connection and difference between both fields. You’ll find out what qualifications and skills both writers need to excel and how much they make.
Difference Between a UX Writer and a Technical Writer
What makes a UX writer different from a tech writer? Technical writing focuses on working with text-heavy documentation like online help files, user guides, instruction manuals, etc., rather than user journeys in digital interfaces. On the other hand, UX writing helps formulate error messages, copy for form fields, and instructions you find on a site or in an application. As such, both roles need different mindsets. In this post, we cover every possible difference between both the roles:
What Is The Role of a UX Writer?
A user experience (UX) writer plans and creates user-facing and user-guiding microcopy that appears throughout the interface of digital products (websites, apps, etc.), including call-to-action, onboarding flows, and menu taxonomy. It is the duty of a UX writer to find the words for menus, error messages, screen messages, definitions, buttons, labels, form fields, chatbots, and the instructions to guide users through a product.
They think like customers and end-users and write UX copy for users, including people of different backgrounds, abilities, ages, and gender identities, that is intuitive, easy to understand, and according to the goals of the product. Although there is some overlap with other disciplines like content strategy and UX design, UX writers (Facebook and Airbnb call them content strategists) focus on writing content for users of digital products.
UX writing aims to create functional text in simple language to guide users through varied digital experiences found on an app or a website. They are product-oriented and write copy to enhance UX through UX design. In short, they simplify the method to use any software product with simpler words.
Some of the typical duties and responsibilities of a UX writer are as follows:
- Carrying out competitive analyses of other websites and applications operating in the same space
- Working side by side with the UX design team on different issues, such as navigation, page routing, product page design, etc. to find the best ways to write a useful copy
- Preparing mockups for the design and development teams
- Creating microcopy within digital products and on web experiences and flows
- Writing and maintaining guidelines and style guides that include brand voice
- Partaking in creating a long-term strategy for content development
- Understanding major product strategy metrics and how to use it content strategy
- Tracking usability objectives and preparing reports for senior management
- Performing tests on all types of pages on the website and generating a report that showcases the findings
What Is The Role of a Technical Writer?
A technical writer is a writing professional responsible for converting complex technical information into easy-to-read documentation. Tech writers produce high-quality documentation that meets applicable standards and helps an end-user use different applications and products with ease. They work on requirements like content strategy or exploring new products to ensure all important information is available for the users.
Technical writers work with internal teams to understand the product’s requirements like how to implement it through the UI text/online help or develop guides and tutorials to enable beginners to navigate their way around the application with ease. In addition to writing accurate and informative instructional content like guides, manuals, tutorials, quick reference guides, white papers, and memos, technical writers also play a vital part in the documentation development cycle.
In the main, they break down complex technical products into easy-to-understand documentation that help an end-user understand how to use products and services. Tech writers use their excellent research and exploration skills with the main goal to conduct extensive research and create documentation that communicates information in clear, useful terms.
The duties and responsibilities of a tech writer are:
- Researching, writing, editing, and revising content that is both engaging and accessible to user personas with both technical and non-technical backgrounds
- Designing and establishing style guidelines for text to meet business requirements
- Creating technical documentation in the form of instruction manuals, integration guides, API developer guides, configuration instructions, in-platform instructions, and system operations
- Producing client resources and educational materials like demonstrations, tutorials, videos, training materials, guided tours, technical overviews, and FAQs
- Writing content in compliance with the company’s established standards and guidelines
- Working with internal teams and other stakeholders for a detailed understanding of the product and documentation requirements
- Researching, creating, and maintaining information architecture templates that uphold business and legal standards and enable easy data migration
- Providing writing and editing support to other team members for consistency and updating content with current information
- Collaborating with development and support leads for determining documentation repositories and the ideal solution for data compilation and centralized storage
UX Writing and Technical Writing Overlaps
When it comes to technical writing, the target audience is technical, while UX writers focus on user interfaces on websites and applications. In most cases, UX writers tend to create copy for buttons, labels, screen messages, etc. In contrast, tech writing focuses on computer software to write end-user manuals, programming guides, user guides, readme files, etc.
Tech writers work on large HW/W projects, unlike user experience writers, who work on small components of copy that serves as a call-to-action (CTA) for users. The latter is a part of the overall UX team, whereas tech writers are a part of engineering development: software and hardware. While UX writing is about putting yourself in the user's shoes to understand user interaction with the application, product, etc., technical writing focuses on ensuring the accuracy of the content.
While both roles differ, there is a lot of overlap between UX writing and technical writing. Besides having an ability to interact with small and medium enterprises, they both have an inclination towards software, products, and design and an understanding of the end-user. They need a complete brief on a project and context, including writing style preferences, target audience, and objectives. Above all, technical writing and UX writing share the same goal of making complex information clear and easy to understand for a user.
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Becoming a UX Writer vs Technical Writer
After finding a lot of overlap between UX writing and tech writing, it is time to learn about their differences also.
Career Path for UX Writer and Technical Writer
UX writing is an evolving field with a successful career path. The evolution in user experience-based skills gives rise to new jobs in this field. UX writing has so many positions; the career trajectory ranges from a UX writer to UX researchers and senior UX professionals. Fresh graduates can work in a UX writing position, and on gaining experience, they can work as a senior UX writer or a manager. A UX writer can also become a product manager, who oversees and guide the complete development process of a product, forming a strategy with goals and functionality of the product.
Some tech writers begin their careers as specialists or research assistants in any technical field. In due course, they develop technical communication skills and take on major duties and responsibilities of technical writing. Novice technical writers may work on projects right away in small firms. In contrast, those working in larger organizations with standard procedures may observe professional tech writers and interact with professionals before taking on projects. In some cases, technical writers can also join the UX writing field.
As you might guess, both tech and UX writers should possess knowledge in at least the basics and mechanics of writing and editing. Carrying out user research, analyzing data, and making complex information clear and easy to understand are some of the skills both roles share. However, there are certain skills that are pretty role-specific.
UX Writer Skills
UX writers are copywriters with a knack for writing concise copy that guides a user, mapping out a streamlined user journey across the product. What makes them different from copywriters is their knowledge of UX and interaction design principles. UX writers are known for having the following skills:
- Excellent copywriting skills and ability to pay attention to detail
- Exceptional communication and collaboration skills
- Background in copywriting, communications, design, or similar
- Resourceful and strategic mindset
- Great passion for storytelling
- Ability to find the optimal and most concise manner for communicating an idea in a clear manner
- Familiarity with the UX design process and how the design and microcopy support each other
Technical Writer Skills
Tech writers must have familiarity with topic-based writing and organized content in line with the business goals. They have exceptional skills in choosing the appropriate medium for the target audience. Here are some basic skills and qualifications a tech writer has:
- Strong written and oral communication skills
- Familiarity with technical and common software
- Ability to pay attention to details
- Ability to prioritize and perform tasks in the expeditious environment
- Ability to scan technical content for consistency and accuracy
- Excellent insightful and dynamic thinking skills
- Readiness to accept new challenges and share new ideas
Educational Background & Qualifications
A user experience writer needs to have a bachelor’s degree. Employers prefer majors like programming, engineering, computer design, or any related field. But some UX writers also come from a general copywriting background. Also, a psychology or journalism degree can work as a good starting point, together with completing online courses and becoming familiar with UX and user-centered writing. Considering the competitive market, some entry-level roles also demand one to three years of past experience in UX writing.
In general, hiring managers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree for technical writing. While some tech writers enter the occupation with degrees applicable to a technical specialty, many have a degree in English, journalism, communications, or any related field. A high school diploma is a must. Many technical writing jobs demand both a degree and knowledge in a specialized field, such as computer science or engineering. In addition, experience in a technical area like web design can increase your job prospects and supplement your education.
UX Writer Salary vs Technical Writer Salary
In most companies, technical writing is a full-time need; however, some organizations may employ a tech writer in part-time positions. Also, some companies prefer hiring freelance technical writers. In general, the average income of a tech writer differs depending on the company’s size and industry. The salary also varies based on years of experience and qualifications.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary of a tech writer is around $76,860 in the United States. The highest annual average salary a tech writer makes is in the IT industry, followed by management and employment services. One of the major job-search engines used by millions of people in the United States alone, Indeed mentions that the average salary for a tech writer in the country is around $57,456. In addition, technical writers can get about $2,000 in cash bonuses through extra cash compensation over a year.
Glassdoor, a popular site to find salary estimates and reviews, mentions that the national average base salary range is between $39,000 and $154,000. PayScale is another dedicated site to get salary estimates and compensation values. The average median salary of a technical writer in the US is $60,529, according to PayScale. The site also shows that a dedicated tech writer can earn between $42,000 and $87,000 in California, New York, Seattle, Houston, and Massachusetts.
Since user experience writing is somewhat new, there is limited information available about the income of a UX writer. Glassdoor compiled a list of salaries for UX writers in the United States, including major companies like Dell, DocuSign, and Facebook, with salaries ranging between $50,000 and $100,000. According to a recent survey of 440 UX writers in 25 different countries, entry-level user experience writers in the US make an average of $75,000 on an annual basis. On the other hand, seasoned UX writers earn an average of $125,000 a year.
Another survey among 208 UX writers in the US and worldwide found that the average salary was $126,000. All the participants had different types of experience, with 4% of the total having a few months experience; 21% having between one to three years experience; 44% with three to nine years’ experience; and 31% with over ten years experience.
The majority of user experience writers work in California. According to Neuvoo, a UX writer in California can earn up to $117,000 every year. There are UX writers in many other states also, including New York, Texas, Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Those with over ten years’ experience attract annual salaries of about $200,000.
Here are quick answers to some of the most asked questions about UX writers and technical writers:
Why do UX writers matter?
A user experience writer, like a UX designer, works as a bridge between the product and the users. They present critical information to users through microcopy at certain moments, ensuring they know what to do. Also, they project a specific brand voice, which helps define the product’s character for users.
What are the characteristics of good UX writing?
Guiding the users throughout the product in a clear and concise manner and ensuring the microcopy works with screen readers and other accessibility tools and is consistent with the brand voice are some of the main characteristics of good UX writing.
What is the difference between a copywriter and a technical writer?
As the name suggests, technical writers write content for technical documents, whereas copywriters write copy for marketing communications, such as direct marketing, advertising, branding, etc. Technical writers write to explain, while copywriters write to sell. In addition, technical writers might have a background in their particular writing area, while many copywriters have education in language and grammar rather than a specific field.
Technical writing and UX writing are similar in many ways; however, the primary difference is that a tech writer looks into the product text, features, and what it does. In contrast, UX writers have their own way of writing, which is concerned with labels, tooltips, properties, in-app text, and onboarding flow charts. The scope and evolution of the UX writer are through having the design background, which helps the technical writers develop human-centric copies. All in all, both roles are crucial to an excellent product experience. Keep your users in mind in everything you do to help them figure out how to use your product in a successful way.
If you are new to UX writing and are looking to break-in, we recommend taking our UX Writing Certification Course, where you will learn the fundamentals of being a UX writer, how to dominate UX writer interviews, and how to stand out as a UX writing candidate.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He had his first job in technical writing for a video editing software company in 2014. Since then, he has written several books on software documentation, personal branding, and computer hacking. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.