UX writers can learn a thing or two from women's magazines

Maaike Van de Voorde

UX Writer

It’s been six months since I have been working as a UX writer at Human Interface Group and I’m already feeling very much at home in the fascinating world of user experience. That’s all because of my previous job.

Before, I worked as a Ph.D. student at the University of Brussels, where I studied the way women are described in Flemish women’s magazines. Quite a career switch, I hear you think. And indeed, it is. But now that I have completed my first projects in UX writing, I realize that both jobs have a lot in common.

My research showed how extremely important it is to build a trustworthy relationship with your audience to keep it engaged for the longer term. As UX writers we can learn a thing or two from the way magazine editors use language to connect with their public.

Before explaining them to you, let me tell you what UX writers actually do. 


The impact of UX writing

As UX writers, we create copy for interaction elements such as error messages, text labels, wizards, walkthroughs and push notifications. But we also write more elaborate content like blog posts, onboarding emails and app store descriptions.

Whatever the purpose, form or length of the copy, we connect with users through language, at every stage of the user experience. As such we succeed in building a long-term quality relationship with them. 


Building a trust relationship

Women’s magazines are particularly strong in establishing a long-lasting relationship with their readers. Over a timespan of decades, they have managed to captivate a large audience of women all over the world. So how do they keep their public engaged?

Their secret lies in the way they speak to their readers. Women’s magazines represent themselves as friends or ‘sisters’ to their women readers. They create a friendly face-to-face-interaction with their readers as if they are talking to their close friends in person. In return, readers put a certain trust in the magazines, as they feel as if they are being addressed individually. And when there is trust, an invaluable, long-lasting brand loyalty can grow.



Example of the friendly face-to-face interaction in the magazine Women's Health


How do you create trust through writing?

Here’s how women’s magazines generate trust and connect with their public:

They know their audience

Women’s magazines have their own unique well-defined target group; a magazine like Flair, for example, is aimed at an audience of young teenage girls, while Libelle focuses on older women with children. In both cases, this is reflected in the topics in the magazines, the visuals, the colors, the language, etc.

Takeaway: as a UX writer, you need to research your target audience. Define their backgrounds, their needs, their goals and their pain points. User research is critical because you communicate best with someone you know well.


They talk the language of their users

Because they know their readers really well, women’s magazines can ‘talk their language’. Flair, for instance, uses a lot of English vocabulary like comfy, oh my god and hunk because the editors know that’s how young people talk nowadays.

Takeaway: match your words to the language of your own users. All communication with users and customers must come across as natural, authentic and personalized. A natural but consistent way of speaking is required.


They show they're human

Women’s magazines make use of paralanguage to create the illusion of having a real conversation. Paralanguage is language which is written as if it were spoken, for example when expressing hesitation with eh…

Takeaway: although your users are probably interacting with a screen, they must never have the feeling a computer is talking to them. Let your users feel that real people created the product and try to sound human. Put a personality, a human touch in your writing so people know they’re dealing with someone, not something. It makes it easier for people to trust you.


They start a dialogue

By making use of different linguistic techniques, women’s magazines try to set up a dialogue with their readers. For example:

  • They address the reader in direct terms by using you (je). In Dutch, this pronoun is an informal form, used between people who know each other
  • Another way to create a dialogue is the use of contact words. These are words that are used in a face-to-face interaction to attract attention and to establish contact. Examples are right? and well

Takeaway: the words of an interface are your conversation with the user, so write like you’re talking to your users, not at them. This allows you to engage with your users more easily. Write the way you speak, using a spoken style instead of a written style, which tends to be too formal and complicated. Read out loud what you have written and when it sounds natural and human, you’re good to go.  


They are helpful

Women’s magazines have always been famous because of their help pages. In these pages as well, the magazines represent themselves as good friends who are always there to give advice on problems women are facing in their daily lives. The instructions and the advice are often literally presented in a ‘To Do list’. This suggests that readers just have to follow the steps in the magazine to get the effects they want.

Takeaway: be helpful and guide your users to achieve their goals. When something goes wrong, explain what steps the user needs to take in a friendly, polite and empathetic way. When you use too many technical jargon or text, it could mislead or even scare your users. 


Your words matter

Of course, there are many other practical tips UX writers must bear in mind, such as being clear, concise, consistent, etc. But it should be clear by now that language plays a key role in engaging your users. Each and every word choice reveals your personality, defines the relationship you build with your audience and provides you with a unique opportunity to connect with your users. 


UX writing, a craft

Good, well-thought UX writing is an indispensable feature of a seamless user experience. After all, users still depend on copy to interact with a website, application or other product. While writing good copy might seem like an easy task, it actually is a craft that requires knowledge of voice, tone, rhythm, terminology, punctuation, accessibility and so on. UX writers have that knowledge.

Companies like Google, Amazon, PayPal and Dropbox have already recognized the importance of UX writing in improving the user experience of a product. Have you? Every product has an amazing story to tell. So why not let a UX writer tell yours?

Get in touch and see how we can turn your story into a fairy tale.  



Or leave us a message