In business and marketing, there’s no shortage of writing professions that you can apply for. But it’s because of the vast possibilities that young writers don’t know where to start. Do they want to focus on technical writing or copywriting? Or maybe someone wants to be a full-time marketing writer and a part-time technical writer? Finally, what’s the difference?
There are more registered copywriters in the U.S. (131,200) than registered technical writers (52,400). But a writer might prefer a technical writing career without even knowing it. A writer can struggle with copywriting but shine as a technical writer.
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First, let’s figure out if technical writing belongs to the marketing or documentation world.
Who is Technical Writer?
Many employers mistake technical writers for writing content about technology companies (tech reviews, news, etc.). In reality, a technical writer helps users to understand a product or service.
Imagine a SaaS company launching an event management platform or even a heavy machinery company launching the latest bulldozer. Although there’s hardly any similarity between them, they have one thing in common: both the event management platform and the bulldozer have their users and target audience. But, there’s a catch. Just because someone is an event manager or a construction worker doesn’t mean they know how to use the given product. That’s where technical writers come in.
Instead of selling or marketing a product, technical writers create technical documents that simplify the usability and product’s possibilities for the given users. Some of the most common documents that technical writers write are:
- User manuals
- Instruction manuals
- White papers
- User guide
- Technical reports
- Scientific papers
- Case studies
- Reference guides
Here are the requirements a technical writer needs.
Technical Writer Requirements
There are two general technical writing skills: stellar writing and deep familiarity with the subject matter (the industry a tech writer works in). We teach the skills to master both in our technical writing certification courses.
On one side, you have engineers. When engineers initially design a product, they create complex sentences packed with industry jargon. On the other side, you have the target audience who wants to use a product but doesn’t need to understand how the product works. A car is a great example. Most adults know how to drive a car, but only people working in the industry know exactly how a car works. That’s where technical writers come in as a “translator” between the two sides.
Although a tech writer’s technical knowledge doesn’t need to match the engineer’s, they require a deeper understanding of technical products. If a technical writer wants to write product specifications, their knowledge needs to be good enough to “translate” complex sentences into content that everyone can figure out.
But besides writing content for how-to manuals, there are other responsibilities technical writers have.
Technical Writer Responsibilities
Besides writing for end-users, technical writers also write for teams inside the company that lack specific knowledge. For example, after finishing the latest car, the company executives want to launch a marketing campaign on social media.
To ensure that the marketing team showcases the car’s highlights, they need to understand how it works. But, since their target market is end-users as well, they need it in simple terms.
Besides writing how-to manuals, technical writers are also responsible for effective technical communication inside a company.
Finally, some technical writers might specialize in creating scientific papers for various healthcare or science organizations.
General responsibilities that work for all technical writers are:
- Write and edit technical documents.
- Work with subject matter experts to get a deeper understanding of technical products.
- Interpret complex product/service features.
- Create a uniform technical writing style across a company or an organization.
Now that you understand what a technical writer does, it’s time to explain copywriting.
Who is a Copywriter?
While technical writing aims to simplify products, copywriting sells products. Copywriting is all about grabbing the reader’s attention by pinpointing and catering to their desires. They are marketing professionals who optimize web pages, direct mail, press releases, and other marketing activities for the same thing: to turn potential customers into paying customers.
It doesn’t necessarily matter to a copywriter if the user understands the product, as long as they show interest.
Since they cater to other people’s feelings, copywriters write and create various material such as:
- Social media content (verbal and visual)
- Ad materials
- Slogans and taglines
- Email campaigns
Although a regular copywriter doesn’t need a deeper understanding of a product, they still need the basic understanding to create the right impression. Here are the basic copywriter requirements.
Since copywriters produce content that catches the reader’s attention, they must understand the user. They need a deep understanding of the reader’s life, needs, and desires.
The writing style creates the right attitude that engages the user with the product.
Although some copywriters specialize in a specific field, many copywriters usually write across different industries, ranging from food to technology. Copywriters understand the basics, but they don’t necessarily have to be super professional.
Like tech writers, copywriters want to avoid any obscure word or phrase that might confuse the user. Besides being a good writer, a copywriter needs to meet the following requirements:
- Bachelor’s degree in English or communication.
- Engaging writing skills.
- Basic understanding of tech, healthcare, marketing, etc.
- Strong research skills.
- Great editing skills.
The main puzzle copywriters try to solve is how the marketing control of the reader’s attention creates engagement and willingness to buy. Because of that, copywriters have several responsibilities.
Many companies struggle with standing out amongst the competition. In other words, they need a robust content strategy that will raise their product above other companies.
Copywriters create compelling marketing materials that don’t necessarily need to be articles. They can also create graphics, product packaging, brochures, and video material.
Additionally, copywriters help define a company’s brand and ensure consistency within the created content. If a company’s target audience is event managers, copywriters maintain a consistent voice that caters to that exact audience across everything that company makes, including emails, webpages, articles, and ads.
Although copywriters use the written word to engage users emotionally, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have technical responsibilities. For example, a copywriter might log user data that helps them understand the audience better and thus help write engaging copies.
Who is a Technical Copywriter?
Writers usually specialize in a specific job, but a writer can be a technical copywriter. Technical copywriters create content that both educates and promotes a product.
Technical copywriting is a sub-category of copywriting. Usually, copywriters write copy that promote a product. Instead of focusing on the product’s features, they focus on the benefits.
But a technical copywriter does both. They use the product as their primary marketing tool. Creating such copies can be difficult, depending on the product’s complexity. That’s why a technical copywriter must have a deep understanding of the given product.
Let’s take a car as an example. Regular copywriters will stick to the “emotional benefits” of owning the car that can range from family-friendly or even abstract phrases such as “mysterious” or “living on the edge.” Their job is to focus more on snappy and appealing sentences.
Technical copywriters will use the car’s features as their sales tool. Instead of writing how awesome the car is, technical copywriting goes more into detail: tech features, engine features, car’s interior, etc. But even then, technical copywriters need to keep it simple and easy to understand.
Technical Copywriter Responsibilities
Because technical copywriters need to both educate and incentivize the customer, they do everything that tech writers and regular copywriters do, including:
- Sales material
- Case studies
- White papers
- How-to manuals
- Campaign material
- Landing pages
Both tech writers, copywriters, and technical copywriters have their specific responsibilities. While it might seem that one job is easier than the other, they all play a vital role.
A copywriter will write an engaging tagline that catches people’s attention, possibly your customers’. A tech writer will help the engaged customer to understand how your product works. And a technical copywriter will do both to create an even deeper engagement.
If you’re a writer figuring out which job position is appropriate for you, it’s a good idea to take a writing course and find out if the responsibilities match your skills. Not only will you improve your skills, but you’ll also get a better picture of where your interests lie.
Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions about technical writing and copywriting.
Does copywriting pay well?
According to Payscale, the average copywriter salary in the U.S. is $56,592 per year, ranging from $38,000 to $83,000. The salary depends on your experience, location, and industry. For example, a copywriter working for a tech company in Los Angeles will likely earn more than a copywriter working for a marketing agency.
How much do technical writers make?
According to Payscale, the technical writers’ average salary is $63,929 per year and ranges from $43,000 to $94,000. Similar to copywriting, the compensation also depends on the writer’s experience, location, and industry.
Can you be a technical writer without a degree?
Although technical writers can find work without a college degree, it’s easier if you at least own a bachelor’s degree. This is especially true for writers just starting who don’t have the experience that they can showcase. A formal degree serves as proof of your knowledge, meaning that employers will be keener to hire you.
If you are new to technical writing and are looking to break-in, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course, where you will learn the fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.