If you’re looking to go freelancing as a writer, you might be wondering what the difference is between being a copywriter vs technical writer. Which one should you choose?
Professional writers provide the text that populates everything we depend on in our world. The next time you read a grocery ad or have to refer to the instruction manual, you are engaging the work of professional writers.
Copywriters and technical writers represent two large job categories for professional writers. These two specialties provide much of the language that powers our world. So what is the difference between a copywriter and a technical writer?
In this article, we will cover the responsibilities of being a copywriter vs technical writer. In addition to a job background, we will discuss the job outlook and compare salaries for both writing professions.
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Copywriter vs Technical Writer – Are They The Same Thing?
While the skill of writing is essential for both copywriters and technical writers, these professions are very different. One way to think about copywriting and technical writing is using the philosophy of different right and left brain strengths.
While now debunked as myth, left-brain and right-brain people represent opposites in the way humans think and perform.
Typically, those who are “left-brained” work logically and with precise attention to detail. In contrast, a “right-brained” person works creatively and in a non-linear fashion. Technical writers fit into a left-brain occupation, while copywriters exercise their right-brain skills.
What Is Technical Writing?
Technical writers deliver precise, researched written pieces that often contain complex terminology for materials like instruction manuals, employee handbooks, and other products to communicate operating procedures.
These specialized writers provide straightforward, expert words with tremendous attention to detail. Creativity or a flowery vocabulary does not form part of technical writing.
These writers must understand deeper communication strategies and decipher how people read and comprehend. Technical writers are not as concerned with inspiring or persuading. Instead, these writers prioritize accurately informing readers above all else.
Many technical writers specialize in specific fields, like medical, finance, business, legal, technology, or grant writing. These are high-pressure writing jobs that require expertise in complex industries.
Many technical writers must become fluent in the jargon of physicians or architects to do their jobs adequately. For example, to write a funding grant, technical writers must perform extensive research on the inner workings of a specific scientific project.
While a technical writer is not a scientist, doctor, or software developer, their words must convey similar expertise. Technical writers possess an impressive ability to absorb complicated, technical concepts of their industry of choice. Often, technical writers come from the industry in which they hold the expertise, such as former software developers, med students, or engineers.
What Is Copywriting?
In contrast to technical writing, copywriting provides much of the language we constantly encounter in everyday life. While technical writing is the content you turn to in a time of need, copywriting is what gives you what you want.
Copywriting is the type of writing that gets clipped out of a magazine and pinned to a vision board because it might be inspirational or funny. In contrast, technical writing is the kind of writing that gets stored in a bottom drawer in case the blender malfunctions.
Copywriters deliver words for commercials, magazine ads, and Internet blogs. These writers persuade audiences with political speeches, social media posts, and catchy jingles.
The work of copywriters is almost inescapable. A copywriter was hired to write the funny slogans on the outside of your hot sauce packet at your favorite fast food chain. The next time you are at the gas station, think of the copywriter who developed the script for gas station TV commercials.
Copywriting requires boundless creativity and an understanding of what appeals to humans emotionally. While technical writing must break through to a rational human thought pattern to convey detailed information, copywriting does the opposite. Copywriting relies on instant, emotional reactions to the chosen words.
This style of writing requires fresh perspectives, persuasive words, and other artistic decisions to make the public pay attention. While technical writing wants you to quiet down and listen, copywriting turns the volume up with its comparatively splashy choices of words.
Professional copywriters are often artistic individuals who need a day job. They could spend their time as novelists, playwrights, and in other creative, writing-adjacent professions.
Read more: What Is Copywriting?
Job Outlook for Copywriters
Copywriting continues to be a competitive job market, especially as more people explore remote work opportunities. Copywriting can provide a reasonable salary, but it can take time to reach a yearly income you can live off of. Often the job outlook for copywriters depends on if you are freelancing or working within a corporate firm.
Most copywriters start by freelancing for at least a year. Even for those graduating with a degree in Marketing or another related field, most copywriting firms want to see that writers have cut their teeth in a professional atmosphere for at least one year first.
Luckily for beginner copywriters, there are many available copywriting jobs. With the ubiquity of the Internet, there exists more content writing and copywriting demand than ever before.
Each page of the Internet, as well as all printed material, required a professional copywriter. Many job boards provide nearly unlimited lists of opportunities for beginner copywriters and content writers.
However, beginner copywriting jobs can be very low paying. Commonly, freelance copywriters can earn less than a cent per word for the products they create. Beginner copywriters must learn to quickly churn out copy that’s creative to make a living during their first year.
Freelancers must balance the needed research with this very low per-word rate. New copywriters learn to conduct swift research while juggling constant new clients. Many times, freelance clients are a one-off project or represent a very short-term relationship.
Once a copywriter has gained experience, a copywriting firm provides more stability and a much higher salary. Firms often retain specific clients so a copywriter can delve more in-depth into a product or service over time. Copywriters develop a deep understanding of a brand and a relationship with the client.
Copywriters can pitch a marketing campaign from scratch, acting more proactive than a freelancer usually does. In this environment, copywriters experience a more 9-to-5 working atmosphere in comparison to a freelancer.
A beginner copywriter may earn around $30,000 per year or less as a freelancer. Usually, freelancers operate as independent contractors, so these earnings do not include taxes. When a copywriter earns a spot with a corporate firm, an annual salary can jump to more than $60,000 per year.
High-profile copywriter jobs can translate into salaries of around $150,000. Think of a very popular technology brand, iconic restaurant chain, or other global brands. Their lead copywriter has developed a grasp of persuasive language, and their expertise is crucial to the brand, and they can easily earn a six-figure salary.
Job Outlook for Technical Writers
As our lives become more technologically advanced than ever, technical writers provide a necessary service. The occupation of technical writers is projected to grow faster than other jobs. The demand for qualified technical writers is strong and rising as everything from our doorbells to our refrigerators becomes even more digital.
And it’s not just digital technology that requires technical writers. Medical writers must keep up with the rapidly-evolving field of medicine and grant writers for government and nonprofit entities face more challenges than ever. Technical writers provide an essential service to modern society.
Unlike copywriters, technical writers almost always require at least a Bachelor’s degree within the writer’s stated field of expertise. In addition to a Bachelor’s degree, a portfolio of work representing a thorough knowledge of technology, law, business, or other topics usually forms part of the requirements.
Some employers need technical writers to complete a competency exam before their employment is verified. All of these procedures aim to measure the technical writer’s level of expertise. This process is essential because the writing done by technical writers communicates essential safety, legal, and other serious regulations.
Technical Writer Salary
Because of the much more intense requirements for a technical writer, the beginning salary is also much higher. Expect to earn about $80,000 per year for the average technical writer in the United States.
Experienced technical writers can expect to earn well over a six-figure salary. This level of earning is much more realistic for a technical writer than for a copywriter. Writers for technology and medicine represent higher earnings. Development writers for nonprofit organizations rank near the bottom for earning potential.
Copywriter vs Technical Writer: The Differences
A copywriter vs. technical writer provides two different sides of the spectrum for professional writing careers. Technical writers deliver jargon and procedural phrasing for products like user manuals, employee guides, and contracts. Copywriters inspire and persuade through creative commercials and Internet content.
Technical writing represents a more lucrative job field within a growing industry. However, technical writers must hold a Bachelor’s degree and represent expertise in a technical field, like engineering, architecture, or software development.
Copywriters may earn lower salaries but can begin without investing in a college degree. Freelance for a year before transitioning into a corporate atmosphere for more stability and a higher salary, or maintain a freelance career for maximum flexibility.
Becoming a professional writer is a rewarding career. Whether you are a more precise, technical writer or an artistic, creative copywriter, there is an opportunity and a demand for your skills within the writing community.