How This Microbiologist Became a UX Writer: Career Story and Lessons Learned

Katherine Igiezele is a UX Writer and Strategist at Toptal and the founder of UX Content Champ. 

She describes herself as working passionately at the intersection of product-led growth and user experience. Her background in SEO copywriting allows her to use words to inform readers and search engines about a product or service. Likewise, her UX writing expertise allows her to convert readers into delightful users. 

In this interview, Katherine shares the origin of her career story, addresses misconceptions around UX writing, breaks down UX writing in its entirety, talks about her course—the UX Content Champ, and much more.

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What inspired you to become a UX writer? 

​My writing ​career ​officially ​started ​in ​a ​content ​mill—an agency ​that overworks and underpays ​writers. ​I ​started ​there ​as ​an SEO ​content ​writer. Then, during ​the ​pandemic, ​I ​augmented ​my ​skills ​with ​copywriting, which got me ​a ​better ​position ​as ​a ​content ​developer ​at an AgriTech ​company.  ​I ​was ​doing ​everything at that time: website content writing and copywriting. 

​Prior to that role, when I was working as an SEO ​copywriter, it ​was satisfying ​because ​I was ​ranking ​my ​clients’ ​websites ​online. It felt like I had superpowers, but I identified ​a ​limitation and ​a ​gap that ​led ​to ​my ​unconventional ​transition and upskilling ​to UX writing. 

Being an SEO copywriter meant that I was bringing in leads and driving traffic, but I didn’t have full control over what happened to the readers after reading my article. So, I challenged myself to take on a more holistic role, which led me to content development. ​I ​was ​responsible ​for ​the website ​copy, ​SEO ​articles, ​​social ​media ​posts, ​and eventually ​, the mobile ​app. ​That ​experience ​solidified ​​my ​love ​for the ​intersection ​of ​UX. ​

Customers and product users want an interconnected experience. That inspired my passion: findability and functionality. I love to say that my content isn’t just findable but also functional.

Did ​you ​take ​any ​courses ​to learn ​UX ​writing?

I learned on the job. When I realized that I was doing user-centered SEO, I looked for a job that allowed me to dive deeper into UX. I already had a deep passion for understanding user experience, particularly tech products. So, ​I ​started ​self-studying, ​reading ​up ​on materials, ​trying ​to ​draw ​up ​a ​roadmap, and ​searching ​the internet ​for ​insights.

It was a tedious process because many of the courses out there aren’t very accessible to Africans, either because of exchange rate issues or payment challenges. That led me to create the UX Content Champ, a UX writing academy targeted at everyone around the world.

Somewhere along my career journey, I discovered more advanced courses like the Nielsen Norman Group. ​They ​have ​a ​lot ​of ​study ​guides, ​mostly ​tailored ​towards ​people ​with ​skin ​in ​the ​game. I also took a lot of masterclasses from the Interaction Design Foundation.

What do you do day-to-day as a UX writer?

My ​daily routine ​starts ​with ​checking ​Slack, the communication platform my company uses. 

​Next, I check ​my ​calendar because I ​love ​to be ​up ​to ​date and ​ ​see ​who ​has scheduled ​to ​talk ​to ​me. A major difference between UX writers and other writers is meetings. As a UX writer, you don’t work in isolation, so there are lots of meetings daily.

Then, I ​check ​my ​emails ​to ​approve ​the ​meeting ​request ​unless ​it is a ​repeated ​meeting. After these things, ​I ​get ​right ​into ​the ​task ​for ​the ​day. 

UX Writing vs Copywriting

Let's explore the main differences between UX writing and copywriting, as explained by Katherine Igiezele (@thekatcopy).

UX ​writing ​sells ​the ​experience ​of ​that ​product.
Copywriting ​​sells ​a ​product.

UX ​writing ​aims ​to ​retain the users​.
Copywriting aims to attract users. 

​UX ​writing ​is ​a ​two-way conversation between the writer and the user, like a dialogue.
Copywriting ​is ​a ​one-way ​conversation​, like a ​monologue.

UX writing guides a user through a product.
Copywriting guides a user through a sales funnel.

UX writing designs ​with ​words.
Copywriting ​persuades ​with ​words. 

​UX ​writing ​improves ​usability.
Copywriting ​improves ​brand ​affinity.

UX writing has a role in design and product. Although, we sometimes work in growth, like I do at TopTal.
Copywriting ​ ​​mostly has a marketing–sales ​role. 

UX ​writers ​work ​better ​in ​a ​team.
Copywriters ​either work ​alone or ​in ​a ​team.
Differences between UX writing and content writing

Sometimes, we ​start ​ ​our ​day ​by ​​writing ​copy, ​and ​then ​we ​are ​either ​requested ​or ​required ​to ​be ​in ​review ​meetings ​where ​we ​present our ​copy ​live ​to stakeholders and ​talk ​about ​our ​copy ​rationale. There are ​a ​lot ​of ​presentations and meetings ​in our ​day-to-day. 

As a UX writer, you have to learn to gain buy-in from stakeholders. Don’t ​ever enter ​a ​presentation ​or ​a ​meeting ​without ​facts. ​Be armed with  ​hypotheses, ​heuristics, or statistics.

There is also a lot of collaboration in the workspace, especially with UX designers. I refer to them as our cousins because you would always collaborate to design solutions.

​We ​also ​have content crits to align with fellow UX writers if you have a challenge or knowledge to share. Talking to people who can relate and understand you can help with your mental health.

In addition, we have stand-ups where we have ​meetings with the ​developers, ​designers, ​and engineers, ​and ​everyone gives a progress report on the previous week or the previous day. The frequency varies in each company, but it’s a norm in every tech organization.

In summary, my day-to-day involves a lot of collaboration, speaking to people, less writing in isolation, and testing. Sometimes, researchers request that you help with documentation before testing your copy. I always advise UX writers not to leave this stage to chance. Hear what the research says so that you have materials to use in your portfolio.

What is the difference between UX Writing and Copywriting?

To start with, while there are differences between UX writing and copywriting in terms of their usage and end goals, they both sell. There’s an interconnection. So, I always advocate that we shouldn’t focus on how divided they are but on how they intersect with one another.

Now that we know they intersect, here are 8 ways in which UX writing differs from copywriting:

UX ​writing ​sells ​the ​experience ​of ​that ​product.Copywriting ​​sells ​a ​product.
UX ​writing ​aims ​to ​retain the users​.Copywriting aims to attract users.
​UX ​writing ​is ​a ​two-way conversation between the writer and the user, like a dialogue.Copywriting ​is ​a ​one-way ​conversation​, like a ​monologue.
UX writing guides a user through a product.Copywriting guides a user through a sales funnel.
UX writing designs ​with ​words.Copywriting ​persuades ​with ​words. 
​UX ​writing ​improves ​usability.Copywriting ​improves ​brand ​affinity.
UX writing works in design and product. Although, we sometimes work in growth, like I do at TopTal.Copywriting ​ ​​mostly works in a marketing–sales ​role. 
UX ​writers ​work ​better ​in ​a ​team.Copywriters can ​either work ​alone or ​in ​a ​team.

How do you help your ​users ​understand ​ a ​product ​without ​making ​them ​feel ​stupid? 

In reference to what ​David ​Ogilvy said, ​”the ​customer ​is ​ ​your ​wife, ​not ​a ​moron,” when you think about it, what does a spouse want more than anything? It’s support! 

So, if you have that at the forefront of your mind, you will prioritize their needs.

In my academy, I compressed the UX writing principles into “the core C’s.” 

Your copy must be ​clear and concise ​because ​you ​don’t ​want ​to ​waste ​people’s ​time. You ​also need ​to ​be ​as ​direct and ​conversational as possible. You want to speak ​with ​your ​users, not ​at ​them—it’s ​a ​dialogue, ​not ​a ​monologue. 

The last core C is “converting.” You want to trigger ​​a ​positive ​emotion ​in ​them because humans need a bit of push. That’s why health campaigns and ads use psychological factors that make you feel like there’s an incentive to do good.

For example, I know I shouldn’t have cupcakes, but I want to have a taste. So, if someone were to advise me not to, they would have to encourage and nudge me a little.

​If your user has ​a ​goal, you ​need ​to ​be ​able ​to ​motivate ​them ​to complete ​that ​goal successfully. Empower them to move from point A to B, achieve their goal, and ​not feel stupid. That’s why everything on your interface should be clear. If your product user needs to do something, they should know what to click easily.

Use clear language and avoid technical jargon unless you have a specialized target audience. However, if you have a mix of targeted audiences, such as ​a ​medical ​platform operated by patients and doctors, you should create an experience that is inclusive and caters to both categories.

What makes the UX Content Champ stand out from the numerous online courses on UX Writing? 

Firstly, ​one ​of ​our ​differentiators ​is ​that we ​champion ​content ​globalization. I like to believe that there is a uniqueness to creating something from a place of underpriviledge and being able to break global barriers—to be in the international market while being relevant locally.

The UX Content Champ is one of the few UX writing programs accessible to people who are underrepresented and those in top countries.

Another ​point ​is that ​beyond championing content globalization, our ​lessons ​are hands-on practicals. The course is created from the principles of systems. There are templates and guides so that you don’t get lost in the rabbit hole while exploring your creativity. I teach you things like conversation mining and how to control information overload. Overall, it is a structured pathway for you to follow. 

My teaching style is my top differentiator. I have heard from different people that I can distill complex concepts into very simple ones. I use references and quotes to help you understand what I’m saying.

Some teachers of UX writing and content design courses use too many technical terms and jargon that confuse learners. Meanwhile, the UX Content Champ is beginner-friendly ​and ​easy ​for ​anyone ​to get ​on ​board with. Plus, ​the ​delivery ​style sets it apart.

What exactly are T-shaped content and T-shaped skills?

A​ T-shaped ​person ​is like a unicorn or hybrid. A T-shaped person isn’t a “​jack ​of ​all ​trades, ​master ​of n​one” but a “jack of all trades, master of one.”

Recall that we have different types of skills: I-shaped and Dash-shaped

The I-shaped are ​specialists, while the ​Dash-shaped are generalists (jack of all trades).

A T-shaped person isn’t a “​jack ​of ​all ​trades, ​master ​of n​one” but a “jack of all trades, master of one.”
- Katherine Igiezele, UX writer

The T-shaped person combines both the I-shaped and Dash-shaped skills. They combine broad skills that are generalistic enough to collaborate in a multi-faceted setting. Then, they also have the vertical side ​”T,” which represents the core of who they are. 

A T-shaped person is versatile, adaptable, and diversifiable, unlike specialists with a “man with a hammer syndrome”—only a one-way solution to problems. 

Meanwhile, being T-shaped didn’t start today. For example, William Shakespeare was a screenwriter, poet, and many other things.

The T-shaped narrative is already being ​used in ​the ​hiring ​world. In an interview with Chief Executive Magazine, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO design consultancy, discussed how hiring T-shaped talents formed the basis of IDEO. He further explained that top companies like Apple and other top ​organizations ​use ​it ​to ​identify ​talents ​who ​are ​easily ​adaptable ​and can deliver excellent ​work.

I started using the “T-shaped” term when I was trying to make sense of my ability to do marketing copywriting and UX writing. 

Right ​now, ​I’ve created ​a ​framework of  ​​T-shaped ​templates that ​​I ​share ​with ​writers. They contain ​a ​skill-mapping ​visualization ​exercise. Your ​core ​skill ​serves ​as ​the ​tree’s trunk, ​while ​​your ​complementary ​skills ​are ​the ​tree’s branches. 

That ​way, ​you can ​tell where ​your ​strength truly ​lies and where ​you need to ​collaborate. It is also ​good ​for ​positioning ​and ​selling ​yourself rather than staying hidden. 

Adapting this T-shaped mindset will unravel ​hidden ​skills ​that ​you didn’t know existed based on your past experiences and collaborations.

How do you ensure your UX writing is clear and consistent, helpful and concise?

It’s all about knowing how to balance each of these principles. In Module Five of the UX Content Champ, the first principle I like to each is “clear.” NOT concise.” 

Firstly, your copy must be useful. I have a quote that I often say, “copy must be useful for there to be users.”

So, the first goal is to make your copy clear and purposeful. Concise comes in only because of design constraints and attention span. 

I tell my students to “write just enough words that will move your user from point A to B.” A pro tip is also to use progressive disclosure. It’s like a treasure hunt game where you’re not giving the entire roadmap at the beginning but tips and guidelines so that the more you move through the journey, the more things are unveiled. 

In addition, front ​load ​your ​content because readers ​on ​the ​internet consume ​content ​in ​an ​F-shaped ​pattern ​where ​they ​pay ​attention ​to ​the ​first ​few ​sentences, then ​​their ​reading ​style follows ​the ​shape ​of ​an ​’F”​. 

So, put ​the ​most ​important ​information ​at the ​beginning of ​your ​sentence. ​That way, you will see that you’ve said what you wanted to say without any fillers.

Another ​tip ​is ​using ​the ​inverted ​pyramid ​style ​of ​writing. This style is age-old, as far back as when reporters were reporting scenes from the war. Since the machine used cut-off recording at certain points, the most important information is prioritized at the top and reported first. Then, supporting points are added as you go downwards. That way, your content can be clear and useful.

The ​last ​point is to show, ​don’t ​tell. ​The “​show ​don’t ​tell” ​principle ​is very ​good ​in ​copywriting. ​It ​helps ​the ​user, ​especially ​in ​UX, paint ​a ​picture ​in ​their ​mind.

Also, don’t ​oversimplify or ​dumb ​down ​content to the extent that it loses its meaning. ​Know ​your ​target ​audience ​and ​write ​accordingly. ​With these, ​you ​will ​have a ​balance of ​all the ​principles—​clear, consistent, ​converting, concise, ​helpful, etc.

What should be in a UX writing portfolio, and how to create a portfolio as a UX writer?

I don’t advise UX writers to include UX ​writing ​challenges in their portfolios. ​It’s a controversial topic, and the industry has different schools of thought. For me, the UX writing challenges are for the betterment of yourself, not for your portfolio.

Businesses ​are ​looking ​for ​real ​solutions. If you must, think back to the information hierarchy and place the writing challenge at the bottom of your portfolio. Then, include that you participated in a challenge.

So, what should be in your portfolio? Real-life examples!

In module one of the UX Content Champ and other module quests, I provide learners with assignments that they can share online. This positions them as people who can operate in real life with real businesses. 

For example, one of my learners wrote a medium article about one of the assignments and also published it on LinkedIn. The assignment was called UX Writing Spotlight. I instructed them to look for five digital products and identify the type of UX copy and purpose of the copy.

The learner did her assignment and published real-life products and services that people use. She also designed a LinkedIn carousel explaining the microcopy on real-life products, such as behind a washing machine and tags in the supermarket. 

I ​will ​give ​that ​a ​thumbs ​up ​for being ​on ​your ​portfolio. Even if it’s not a branded or paid project, it gives people the impression ​that ​you​ ​know ​what ​you ​are ​doing, and they ​see ​you ​ ​as a ​critical ​thinker. 

The next step is to structure ​them ​in ​a ​way ​that ​makes ​sense. 

A pro tip for UX writing portfolios is to include evidence of user-centered content. Then, add a ​brief ​introduction, ​a ​project ​overview, and ​a ​clear ​title ​that differentiates between a ​content ​redesign and an ​onboarding ​UX ​copy to stand out from the numerous portfolios read by hiring managers. Help them form a mental model before diving into your portfolio.

Another important tip is to use ​storytelling. Storytelling helps ​to ​evoke  ​emotion and ​hook ​the ​hiring ​person. Start with a problem, then end with a solution.

If ​you ​could ​go ​back ​and ​do ​it ​all ​again, ​would ​you ​still choose UX writing? ​


​What ​is ​that ​one ​piece ​of ​advice ​you ​would ​give  ​to newbies in UX writing as they ​begin  ​their ​journey?

Think ​like ​a ​UX ​writer! By ​that, ​I ​mean ​unlocking and ​opening ​your ​mind ​to ​see ​the copy ​around ​you. This advice also applies to copywriters.

​Be ​self-aware ​and ​self-conscious ​of ​copy ​around ​you because ​UX ​writing ​is ​about ​psychology. When you see any copy, ask yourself how it made you feel. Try to label that feeling and ask yourself what word choice led to it. Stay curious!

Next, always ​have ​a ​swipe ​file where you can save pictures of copy examples you like. 

Also, be intentional about spotting UX writing when ​using ​your ​mobile ​applications. That’s why I give people a basic example: imagine your ​rider ​or instant messaging ​app doesn’t have the microcopy that says “Send Message,” how would you know what to press?

Another fundamental advice is to change your ​mindset. You change your mindset; then you change your life. 

Lastly, ​Google ​is ​free ​to ​use; you can start researching. Then​, listen ​to ​podcasts ​like Marketing Over Wine. It exposes you to new information and awakens your curiosity. 

What ​are ​your ​predictions ​for ​AI ​and ​UX ​writing ​in ​2024?

​AI ​is ​here ​to ​serve ​as ​many ​things. ​AI ​can ​be ​a ​research ​assistant: it ​can ​streamline ​your ​research ​process ​if ​you ​understand ​how ​to ​use ​it. ​AI ​can ​also ​help ​you to ​scale. For example, if I have a headline option and know the thought process that led to developing the headline, I can ask Chat GPT to use that thought process to provide 20 more. But ​first, ​the ​human ​input ​is ​very ​important. ​AI’s output is dependent on the input given. 

There will also ​be ​a ​rise ​in ​human ​writers to flush out the numerous AI-filled pieces of ​content. People want to use AI randomly and shy away from its ethical usage.

As a writer, learn to be a human writer first, then embrace the ethical use of AI. 

Being ​a ​human ​writer will make you stand out because ​you ​have ​user ​experience ​at ​the ​forefront ​of ​your ​mind and generate useful content for consumers. 

Also, create ​a balance. Use AI ​sparingly; otherwise, it ​might become an ​exchange for ​your ​brain. Our brain is for thinking. So, if you always outsource your thinking process to AI, you will become dormant.

What ​tools ​do ​you ​use ​day-to-day ​as a UX writer?

I ​will ​start ​with ​productivity ​because working ​remotely comes ​with ​its challenges, ​which ​you must curb ​to maintain optimum ​effectiveness ​and ​efficiency. ​

I use a time ​productivity ​app for the ​Pomodoro ​technique ​of focus. I ​set ​time ​blocks ​and ​allocate ​time. When ​I’m ​on ​those ​time ​blocks, ​I ​turn ​off ​everything. The app has a feature that if I turn my phone upside down to start working, the timer recounts if I turn it upside up. That messes with my head, so I ignore my phone so that I don’t lose the time I have spent working.

I also use the TickTick app. It allows me ​to ​embed ​my ​calendar, so  ​if I have meetings, they ​​draw ​ ​a ​map ​of ​my day.

Another app I use ​for ​productivity is Momentum. ​It ​ helps ​my ​mental ​health by providing motivational ​quotes on different landscapes. So, I can work in Nigeria, but the landscape I’m seeing is in the US, China, and everywhere else.

In ​terms ​of ​scheduling, I use Google ​Calendars for  ​reminders​, so ​I ​don’t ​have ​to ​clog ​my ​brain ​​trying to ​remember ​things. I also use the ​entire ​Google ​Workspace ​because ​I ​use ​almost ​everything Google offers.

For payments, ​I ​use ​Payoneer. One ​of ​their ​automation features I ​like ​is ​the ability to ​send ​invoice reminders for payments you haven’t received.

What is your favorite type of wine?

Wines that have fruity flavor!

If ​you ​could ​have ​a ​glass ​of ​wine ​with ​any ​marketing ​professional ​of ​your ​choice, ​past ​or ​present, ​who ​would ​it ​be?

Seth Godin, ​author ​of  “This ​is ​marketing.”

Learn more about Katherine Igiezele

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