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What's the difference between microcopy and ux writing? I think UX writing is just a parent topic for microcopy, but I'm not sure.

From what I understand:

UX writing: Is concerned with all aspects of the user experience.

  • on-boarding instructions
  • marketing email copy?

Microcopy: UX writing that's close to the action. It's the copy that informs the user what action to take, and alerts them in case of an issue.

  • button cta text
  • warning notifications
  • copy in modals
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UX writing is an umbrella term for all writing within a digital experience that helps the user to understand and use the product. A full definition by Nick Babich here is

"UX writing is the practice of crafting UI copy that guides users within a product and helps them interact with it. UI copy includes buttons and menu labels, error messages, security notes, terms and conditions, as well as any instructions on product usage.The primary aim of UX writing is to settle communication between users and a digital product."

I would not define marketing email copy as UX writing. UX writing may be involved, especially as it applies to how the user interacts with the email itself, but the copy in the email belongs to the domain of copywriting, which is writing to sell or persuade. Copywriting, while it has crossover with UX writing, is distinct. With UX writing, the primary goal is understanding for the user. Clear UX writing doesn't always make persuasive copy, nor should it.

Microcopy is part of UX writing. Babich's definition:

"Microcopy is the term for the small bits of copy on a apps’s interface that help users do ‘stuff’. Microcopy examples are error messages, contact form explainers, ecommerce hints."

So microcopy is a subcategory of copy within UX writing, as you indicated at the top of your question. It includes tool tips, forms, instructions, buttons, labels, etc.

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I would argue that both of these are disciplines inside the space of UX Writing that a good writer would perform for a company. I'm a freelance UX writer, and I've worked with brands like Spotify, Notion, Google and many others—and here's how I see it:

Microcopy usually refers to the specific, actionable copy for users. Things like the copy on a dialog box, a line of text explaining an error, or something as tiny as a call-to-action.

Copywriting is usually the act of writing marketing copy, and generally was what UX Writing often found itself lumped in with before.

The key difference between copywriting and UX writing, however, is that with UX writing we're trying to get the user to understand exactly what's happening—we're clear and to the point, with no additional flashy words or cheesy phrasing to get there.

It's direct, and helpful—that's it. Copywriting, generally, found itself in the awkward space for years where cheery errors might say "Oh no! Something went wrong." That's not particularly succinct, nor helpful—but it does sound nice, despite leaving the user more confused.

UX Writing became a discipline in its own right because of this blur, and because users don't really want cheesy copy—they just want to get something done. I wrote a bit more about this here in the past, with a number of examples of what I mean.

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You are largely correct in the relationship between those two terms. I think a good analogy here would be the difference between interaction design and micro-interaction design.

Whereas interaction design is a catch-all term for the different aspects of designing for the interaction between two entities (it can even be machine-to-machine and not just human-to-machine), micro-interaction design focuses on a specific aspect of interaction design that deals with behaviour at the user interface element level for a single action.

Copywriting as a discipline stems from marketing and communication activities and when applied to UX design deals with the application of writing style/guidelines to reinforce the brand/image experience to the interfaces presented to the user (which had been largely neglected as visual and written communication are two areas of expertise that are hard to master).

Microcopy is something that has gained more attention as the prevalence and popularity of mobile apps has changed the web and digital interactions from something that used to be more informative and transaction based to something more interactive and engaging. Hence the influence or impact of text present at the point of interaction / call-to-action is considerably bigger than applications that have been designed previously.

Hence, you might find it more likely for someone from a communications background to be doing copywriting but someone who is from a design/development background to produce the microcopy. This trend might be changing as writing style guides are increasingly being embedded into design systems.

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