Why reading fiction makes you a better UX Writer

Why reading fiction makes you a better UX Writer

UX Writing is still a relatively nascent field within UX Design, but it's an important one. A small change in copy can yield gigantic changes in results; for an example of how a simple copy change can lift engagement by 90% take a look at this case study.  

So, what makes a great UX Writer?

Why reading makes you a better UX writer

The importance of reading is far from a novel idea. Many great writers throughout time have credited their success to dedication to their work, and reading.

Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out.
           - William Faulkner

Reading a lot gives you more tools to add to your writing arsenal. I've found the most useful to be increasing your vocabulary and gaining a stronger sense of rhythm and lyricism.  

Increased vocabulary

Having a large vocabulary gives you amazing flexibility and precision, which is crucial for creating messaging that is nuanced and direct.

When I'm solving a complex problem, I always start big. I start by writing down the problem and coming up with a detailed solution that clearly explains everything I need to convey to the user.

This more complex messaging is what I use to align stakeholders initially.  It's much easier to get everyone on board with a more complete message, because they can see all of their potential concerns or objections addressed. From there, I reduce the message - I make it crystal clear.

Sense of rhythm

Once the message contents are clear and concise, this is where I use the lyricism and style.  In each message, I strive to make it as beautiful as possible without sacrifice clarity.  The best UIs are intuitive, functional, and beautiful - the same should be true of the best UX Writing.

Why reading fiction makes you a better UX writer

Fiction has two major advantages over nonfiction.

  1. World-building and character development.
  2. Brutally truthful insight into human nature.

World-building and character development

World-building and character development are incredibly helpful when you're building a brand or product voice, or persona.  Brand personas are crucial guidelines, that really help with maintaining consistency throughout your product and for speaking to your users in a way that they expect, and enjoy.  

Building a rich persona, complete with different tones and idiosyncratic qualities is close to creating a character.  You should build a persona with a history, with personal quirks, with likes and dislikes.  You should create a reason for why they speak the way they do; why they would say X over Y. Giving the persona a rich personal history allows your writers to get into the persona's mind and unique tone of voice more easily.

Personas also need to be heavily based on the brand values and on the user demographics, but being able to invent a persona who fits in to both of those is much easier if you have a rich backlog of characters you can pull inspiration from, and a great understanding of what makes a character feel real instead of flat.

Truthful insights

Fiction often contains more truth about human nature than nonfiction. While reading psychology and studies on human behaviour is wonderful for understanding what people will do in a giving situation and why they do it; it doesn't yield insight into what taking that action is like for them.

Understanding what going through an experience is like for someone is great for building empathy in contexts you might otherwise never encounter.  

Also, good fiction depicts humanity in its truest form.  It shows painful experiences, mistakes, and selfish thoughts in a way that nonfiction rarely does because it's brutally hard to be so honest about yourself.  Fiction gives the author a sense of plausible deniability.  And yet, we know that mistakes and the personal flaws they write about are real, because we all have our own. Being intimately exposed to others'  internal and external challenges like that builds empathy.  

Reading lots, and reading great fiction will make you a more empathic, versatile, and stylish UX Writer.  

If you're looking for places to start, a couple of books that improved my writing tenfold are A Thousand Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and Tolstoy's Resurrection.