“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 well understood. Move along my fellow marketing cranks. Nothing new to see here. However, if you’re not privy to the inner workings of the marketing universe, you might be wondering how copywriters and technical writers differ.
Copywriters persuade. Technical writers explain.
Copywriters use words to provoke some kind of action from the reader. That action might be making a purchase, signing up for a mailing list, subscribing to a blog, donating money, or contacting a service provider. In other words, copywriters fulfill a marketing role.
Sales letters, corporate blogs, white papers, advertisements, press releases – these are the products of the copywriter’s labors.
A copywriter may not have much technical knowledge. On the other hand, an increasing number of us are quite technically-oriented. In my case, several clients’ needs require me to possess a certain degree of technical acumen. They’re technical service providers or software makers, and communicating what they do assumes an understanding of what they do.
Technical writers, on the other hand, break down technical concepts into language a specific kind of reader will understand. Frequently, these readers are regular consumers – people who don’t know how their smartphone works and need some kind of explanation.
You know the little manual that came with your GoPro, your iPhone, or your fancy pants flat-screen? That was the work of a technical writer.
Instruction manuals, internally-circulated industry documents, legal forms – technical writers create these and tailor them to a certain kind of audience.
Similarities? But of course…
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 might have to present the process in a way that’s understandable to people who know absolutely nothing about data transfer. In this case, the copywriter would proceed a bit like a technical writer – simplifying the language until the message is clear.
However, what separates the copywriter from the technical writer is that the former is working with a concrete, persuasive marketing objective in mind. That’s where the professions diverge.
So, does your project call for a copywriter or a technical writer?
It all comes down to your goals – and whether you’re trying to explain something or sell it.
Photo by Juan de Dios Santander Vela