“So, aren’t you a technical writer?”
It’s a question I hear often from friends and less often from clients. The answer is no. I’m a copywriter, not a technical writer.
Although clients have occasionally referred to me as their “technical” copywriter.
To marketing professionals, the difference is obvious. However, if you’re not in marketing, you might not even know what a copywriter is – and that’s ok!
Copywriters are (usually) not technical writers and technical writers are (usually) not copywriters. Still, you may one day find the difference to be crucial, especially if you’re looking to hire a freelancer.
Copywriters help you sell.
And that’s pretty much it.
Ok, that’s not all there is to it – not exactly. Copywriters are the ones who use words to help a business communicate with an audience. This can be in the form of radio advertising, TV ad scripts, brochure writing, or direct mail to name a few mediums. In my case, it usually means Web content writing, email marketing, press release writing, or even blogging.
A good copywriter should understand the structure of effective copy. He or she should be able to present your product, service, or once-in-a-lifetime deal in a way that gets readers to take action.
Taking action could mean joining your mailing list, contacting you for a free demonstration of your product, or making a purchase.
A copywriter may not have much technical knowledge. On the other hand, an increasing number of us are very tech savvy. In my case, several clients’ needs require me to possess a certain degree of technical acumen. Otherwise, it would be hard to help them sell things like automated continuing education management systems!
A lot of us even know some basic HTML and CSS, both of which help us help clients with things like sales email templates and foundational Web content presentation.
Technical writers help you explain things.
You know the little manual that came in the box with your smartphone? That was the work of a technical writer.
Instruction manuals, internally-circulated industry documents, assembly instructions, legal forms – technical writers create these and tailor them to a given audience. Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges for technical writers has been turning technical documentation into something easy for laypeople to digest.
Unless you’re an engineer, for instance, your DVD player is a pretty complicated piece of machinery. Thankfully, the little manual that comes with it doesn’t require you to complete a 4-year program at Cal Tech just to understand what’s going on.
Thanks to a technical writer, that is.
To be sure, the copywriting and technical writing professions can overlap, but that’s almost always when there’s a technical subject matter at hand.
For example, a copywriter asked to write foundational Web content for a group that handles data transfer between government agencies would have to present the process in a way that’s salable. And unless it’s simple, it’s probably not going to sell.
In this case, the copywriter would behave like a technical writer – simplifying the language until the message is clear. That the copywriter has a clear marketing objective is what separates him or her from the technical writer.
So, do you need a copywriter or a technical writer?
It all comes down to your goals for a project – and whether you’re trying to explain something or sell it.
Photo by Juan de Dios Santander Vela