What is the difference between copywriting and technical writing?

I call myself a “business writer” because it encompasses both copywriting and technical writing. But I have bumped into a lot of people recently who don’t really know what I do: This month, while working with some clients for whom I’m doing copywriting, I was asked what a technical writer was; and, while working with a client for whom I’m doing technical writing, I was asked what a copywriter was. I confess that I’ve spent so long doing both that I was a little taken aback that people hadn’t heard of the other.

So here’s a definition — my definition, maybe not an “official, definitive, industry-approved” definition of what I do every day:

As a copywriter, I develop external content — content for clients that sells their products or services to their customers. I write web copy, press releases, articles, blogs, etc. Copy that sells.

As a technical writer, I develop internal content — content for clients that sells their strategic initiatives to an internal audience. I write instruction and training manuals, knowledge center content, policy and procedure best practices guidelines, etc.

In both cases, it’s content that sells… it just happens to sell to different audiences and possesses different characteristics: Copywriting often relies on sales language to create an emotional connection with the reader and get them to spend money. Technical writing relies on “how-to” (and a little bit of spin) to explain why the reader should do something and then get them to do it.

In spite of the differences, though, there are similarities: Both sell. Both emphasize benefits of “buying into” whatever the document is selling. Both have an audience who is (hopefully) going to act because of what they’ve read.

If you think of it in terms of the sales funnel, copywriting helps to move the customer along the sales funnel to the point of (and beyond) the sale. Meanwhile, technical writing helps staff, vendors, and other partners (“internal stakeholders”) to operate in a way that helps the organization achieve its aim (which is usually related to the sales funnel!).

What does this mean for prospective clients? If you need me to do some writing, you don’t have to differentiate. That’s why I call myself a “business writer”. I write for your business, regardless of whether you know what you need or not. But I do differentiate the copywriting and technical writing for those who know what they are looking for and want to know if I can deliver it.

Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and he's a real estate investor and a copywriter for real estate investors.

2 thoughts on “What is the difference between copywriting and technical writing?

  1. Excellent post! As a technical writer, I’m constantly trying to emphasize the importance of copywriting to create engagement. If you cannot explain to readers why they should develop a better understanding of your product, they will not read the documentation. As you said, the “why” is important in both technical writing and copywriting. It’s all about engagement, whether your selling widgets to new customers or teaching existing customers how to use them.

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