Technical Writing and Copywriting are Really Different, Right?

Technical writing and copywriting (writing for marketing purposes) are different disciplines, and lots of writers can struggle to switch between the two. Please don’t make the assumption that just because someone can write well, they can do either or both – it really isn’t as simple as that.

Let’s look at what makes good technical writing:

  • The content is written at the right level for the target audience
  • It uses language that is appropriate for the target audience
  • It is clear and avoids ambiguity
  • It is non-linear so users can dip-in and dip-out at will
  • It explains how to use a product to achieve goals
  • It provides details of what, where, when, who, how, and why. I discussed this point in a blog article.

The emphasis is on user assistance – teaching your customers how to use your product or service, and helping them to understand how it works. This is not creative writing and should not be the place for lurid descriptions and flamboyancy. It needs to be clear and unambiguous, which is why a lot of technical writing seems to be ‘dry’. In many cases, it has to be that way. But if the audience and tone allows for it, it can be a little light-hearted too – but this needs to be handled very carefully.

Technical writers are unlike many other types of writers, in that we are trained to write in a rather restrictive way. Our job has nothing to do with showing off our vocabulary or capturing our readers’ imagination – it is purely about helping people to understand how, when, and why they should use a product or service.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in ‘How to Write with Style‘:

“Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.”

So technical writing is writing without style? Not quite. There are many different types of technical writing styles, some of which cause problems for readers – have you ever been frustrated by a jargon-riddled manual? But good technical writing tends to be easy to read, and uses simple terms wherever possible. But there is some creativity too – a ‘chatty’ style can be very effective and when explaining concepts, the use of effective metaphors can really help readers to understand something new.

Copywriting is completely different, because it is very creative. Here, the emphasis is on selling and creating an emotional response in the reader. To do that, I need to use every trick in the book, including clever word play, suggestive use of words, and careful pacing so that the reader is persuaded to buy, not hit over the head with a hard sell. (The hard sell approach does not work in some cultures, despite what some US sites might tell you. The ‘tried and tested’ methods do not work anywhere near as well in the UK for example).

With copywriting, I aim to:

  • Identify the target market and key phrases for Google
  • Use language and ideas that appeal to your customers
  • Use an approach that separates your marketing from that of your rivals
  • Promote the benefits of your brand, product or service
  • Capture your target audience’s attention with eye-catching headings
  • Hit them hard and fast with the key benefits. It is very important to address the one common question potential buyers have – what’s in it for me?
  • Guide them through each benefit in turn, helping them get past any obstacles (real or imaginary)
  • Encourage them to buy or get in touch with a powerful call to action.

As you can see, the only real similarity to technical writing is the need to identify the target audience and the correct tone for the content.

Why Does StrayGoat Offer Copywriting and Technical Writing?

Simple – because I can help customers that need either/both services. As a technical writer, I’ve worked for international companies (Schneider Electric) and smaller organisations, such as 4Energy and Remove My Car, and have been very successful. But for many years I’ve also provided copywriting services to lots of different companies, both here in the UK and abroad, including large construction companies, small start-up businesses, and even stage magicians. In fact, I’ve worked for more companies as a copywriter than I have as a technical author.

Now you may be wondering if I just took up copywriting without learning the trade. Of course I did. First I studied a distance learning course in copywriting and then, when I had some satisfied customers under my belt, I completed the Success Works SEO copywriting certification, which is the only copywriting course that it recognised by the leading SEO web sites, like SEOMoz. I am now a lifetime member of the Success Works graduate program, and keep up-to-date with the world of search engine optimisation through that.

So if you hire me to produce copywriting for your web site, you can be 100% sure that I will:

  • Create content that promotes your benefits
  • Craft headings and text that appeal to customers and Google
  • Find new angles and key phrases that your competitors may have missed
  • Subtly inform, persuade and encourage your readers to become customers.

Sadly, Time Restricts my Availability for Copywriting

Most of my technical writing work involves contracts that can last months or even years. That’s the nature of the beast. Unfortunately, that means I have to be more selective with my choice of copywriting jobs. (You can read about some of my previous copywriting jobs on the Copywriting page).

So if you thought I was one of those writers who is only interested in working for the big boys, you couldn’t be more wrong – I only accept small web copywriting jobs, which usually means I only work for smaller companies or new start ups. How many other experienced writers can say the same?

Let’s discuss your project. Please get in touch by using the contact form and I will get back to you as soon as possible.


Hire an Experienced Technical Writer Today

Let’s get the ball rolling on your documentation project. Use the form below to get in touch and I will get back to you a.s.a.p. What things should you mention? To start with, let me know about the type of documentation you need, a rough idea of the amount of documentation or scope of the project, and your time scales.