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  1. Aprill Allen wrote on

    Yes, I’ve done both forms of writing. At the end of a copywriting day my brain feels really stretched. Tired. I’ve been referencing all sorts of material, a thesaurus, dictionaries, and then often squashing my words into a small space. Cutting copy without losing the personality and important detail.

    Technical writing is usually a simple style, with straightforward direction—especially when I’ve been a user in charge of creating the documentation.

  2. Glenn Murray wrote on

    Very good point. When you’re copywriting, you usually have space or word count constraints. When you’re technical writing, you usually don’t. Thanks Aprill!

  3. John Richardson wrote on

    Yes it’s hard. But that’s why it’s so rewarding. I wonder how many copywriters are trained or even qualified? It seems that anyone can become a copywriter these days. There are plenty of ads out there for copywriting courses that promise six figure salaries by millionaire copywriters. They make it sound so easy. But the very fact that it’s so challenging is a better benefit. There’s a deeper reward in it. I’m not suggesting that a blind retired housewife, who can’t read or write, can’t make one million dollars a year writing one day a month. But I somehow doubt it.

  4. Jusan wrote on

    Thanks for sharing this interesting article. One of the nice things about blogging is that more of the conversation is public and at the same time you shared your brilliant ideas.

  5. David wrote on

    Hi,

    I just like the blog and added a few comments against each of the twelve point, just out of my experience as a technical writer.

    12 Reasons why Technical Writing is equivalent to Copy Writing

    1.When you’re copywriting, you have to educate and persuade. When you’re technical writing, you have only to educate.

    My Comment:

    When you are a technical writer, you have to be extremely cautious about your language—a formal stance needs to be taken always. You need to stick to an approved style and format. You as a technical writer should be educated in terms of what you should be writing.

    When you’re copywriting you are at will to express yourself—no particular style or format need be adapted. You can be as creative as you desire—that really helps a copywriter to a lengthy extent.

    2.When you’re copywriting, your reader will simply give up if your writing doesn’t grab them. When you’re technical writing, you have a captive audience; they’re trying to do something, and you’re telling them how. The onus is on them to understand and heed your writing.

    My Comment:

    When you are a technical writer, your work undergoes many reviews; you’ll be under constant surveillance. When you’re copy writing you are at will to release your thoughts and expressions to be polished, fabricated and packaged by your client before it reaches the user.

    3.When you’re copywriting you have to compete with dozens, maybe even hundreds, of other pieces, all trying to sell the same sort of thing. When you’re technical writing, you’re one of only a handful of reference sources available to the user, and the others are normally ‘on your team’ anyway.

    My Comment:

    When you are a technical writer, you will be competing against a team of writers; trying to outwit them in getting yourself appraised better and constantly endeavor this way to earn a better pay raise.

    When you’re copywriting, you already have a base, a platform to start with—you have a mine of ideas from other products—you can improvise on them. But when you are a technical writer, you need almost to start from a scratch many a time.

    4.When you’re copywriting, it matters if people read what you write. When you’re technical writing, it doesn’t; if people don’t read it, it’s probably because they don’t need help.

    My Comment:

    When your are writing as a technical writer it matters for the people who actually need the information—it certainly matters for the people like software and hardware engineers for whom the documents like SyRS, SwRS, Functional Specifications, Concept Document and more, are like a Bible. A user manual or an instructional guide will be of immense use for a layman, a newbie or in particular to those who need a solution for a malfunction or a trouble.

    When copywriting you’re trying sell your work. You’re not particularly aiding a user learn how to use a crucial or life saving equipment—like an Airplane or a Medical Diagnostic Apparatus— whose use the user might not be aware of.

    My Comment:

    5.When you’re copywriting, yours is the critical objective: to sell. When you’re technical writing, yours is the secondary objective: to support. (Not that I’m saying software companies are unsupportive. Honest… ;-)
    When you are either a technical writer or a copy writer, you are trying to sell your skills. You are trying to get yourself impressed for better returns ultimately—functions apart, both have to toil equally to earn their daily bread.

    6.When you’re copywriting, your client is often paying for your services out of their own pocket. When you’re technical writing, your client is usually just another internal department, so money isn’t so personal.

    My Comment:

    This is not a reason to be taken; in favor of or against technical writing or copywriting.

    7.When you’re copywriting, you have to write about and understand hundreds of products and services, each year. When you’re technical writing, you may write about only one.

    My Comment:

    When you are a technical writer, you can either be working for services or product (s). Enormous procedures are required to be written for a product; it some times becomes tedious and cumbersome working with same product. Technical Writing is similar to copywriting when writing for services.

    When you are copywriting, everything is new every time. If one is creative enough, copywriting makes an invigorating experience altogether.

    8.When you’re copywriting, you have to understand the client, the buyer and the user. When you’re technical writing, you need only concern yourself with the user.

    My Comment:

    When you are a technical writer, you have to understand the buyer, the user and the client. It is no different from copywriting.

    9.When you’re copywriting for the web, you’re at the mercy of indexers that don’t care about you, your writing or your subject matter. (i.e. You’re at the mercy of search engines.) When you’re technical writing, you’ll either index your own work, or someone within your organization will index it.

    My Comment:

    It is a challenge that you should accept SEO concept with copywriting. Learn to use SEO concepts and gain mastery over it. It is just a part of copywriting; otherwise one will be kicked out of the filed.

    10.When you’re copywriting, you have to write creatively and clearly. When you’re technical writing, you have only to write clearly.

    My Comment:

    When you are a technical writer, you have to be more than clear. You should write even complex information in simple language, make it concise, appealing, use graphics in place of text sometimes, you should be consistent throughout a voluminous content, you should never be gender specific, you should think of different users and write in an acceptable ubiquitous language and maintain a steady flow, you should use specific style and format, stick to specifications, be unambiguous always and also be creative.

    When you’re copywriting, you can be just informal and stick to no specific styles or guides. You can be creative and that itself makes the job pretty easy for a copywriter.

    11.When you’re copywriting, you have to find dozens of ways to sell a single product, and you’ll often have do it again and again for similar — maybe even competing — products. You have to continually come up with different ways to say essentially the same thing. When you’re technical writing, you need only say it once.

    My Comment:

    When you’re copywriting, your job is to write; selling a product is not your department. You will be guided, goaded and driven to perfection by your client or people for whom you are working.

    When you are a technical writer, you are a specialized person who has been assigned a job that a copywriter may not be able to perform. Every person is a master in their own discipline.

    12.When you’re copywriting, you’re contending with high expectations; there’s a lot of quality copy around. When you’re technical writing, there’s a good chance your audience is used to being asked to, “Inserts the SD card, changes into my computer, and drives to H: Driving”!!!

    My Comment:

    That is where a technical writer stay puts.
    When you’re copywriting, you can use language as a jargon. I have to say that your comment here did not at all ring a bell.

    To sum up I can only say tha technical writing and copywriting are like two rails on a railway track. A train called ‘A Writer’, would meet a disastrous end, if one were to pull out any of the rail and allow it to travel across.

    I welcome comments..

    mdssratan@rediffmail.com or mdssratan@gmail.com

  6. Paul, SuperPowerCopy.com wrote on

    The bottom line, for me, is that copywriting requires a lot more CREATIVITY than technical writing, which takes a lot of mental effort.

    On the other hand, I think a lot of technical writers could do with a heavy dose of creativity :)

  7. Glenn Murray wrote on

    G’day David. Thanks for such a thoughtful and lengthy comment. Sorry it took me a few days to respond. I really wanted to give it the time it deserves.

    I’ve addressed your points individually below.

    1) “When you’re copywriting you are at will to express yourself—no particular style or format need be adapted. You can be as creative as you desire.” This isn’t actually true. In copywriting, as in technical writing, you need to adhere to a particular style, and you need to be very careful about the language used in claims. For instance, I once wrote that a car was “extremely fuel efficient”, but the client’s legal team made me change it to “very fuel efficient”!!!

    2) “When you are a technical writer, your work undergoes many reviews; you’ll be under constant surveillance. When you’re copy writing you are at will to release your thoughts and expressions to be polished, fabricated and packaged by your client before it reaches the user.” — My experience is that, if anything, client reviews are more stringent in copywriting than in technical writing. Some very important is at stake: money from a sale. In techwriting, the stakes are lower: the client is only trying to help an existing customer.

    3-a) “When you are a technical writer, you will be competing against a team of writers; trying to outwit them in getting yourself appraised better and constantly endeavor this way to earn a better pay raise.” — This may be true, but if you’re in a team of copywriters, the same might be said.

    3-b) “When you’re copywriting, you already have a base, a platform to start with—you have a mine of ideas from other products—you can improvise on them. But when you are a technical writer, you need almost to start from a scratch many a time.” — I can’t see the difference, really. As a technical writer, you document many features over the course of the year. I always found I could draw on my experience from previous features, just as I can draw on experience from previous products/services in copywriting. What’s more, if you’re copywriting about a product or service that IS, in fact, identical to a previous one, you HAVE to start from scratch. Otherwise issues of copyright and selling proposition come into play.

    4) “When your are writing as a technical writer it matters for the people who actually need the information…” — Yes, I agree. But that wasn’t my point. My point was not that techwriting is unimportant. It was that if readers choose not to read it, that’s fine. If readers choose not to read your copywriting, you haven’t done it well.

    5) “When you are either a technical writer or a copy writer, you are trying to sell your skills.” — I agree, but again, that’s not my point. I meant that copywriters are trying to sell their CLIENT’S product/service, not their own skills.

    6) My original point: “When you’re copywriting, your client is often paying for your services out of their own pocket. When you’re technical writing, your client is usually just another internal department, so money isn’t so personal.” — Your response: “This is not a reason to be taken; in favor of or against technical writing or copywriting.” — Definitely disagree here. The typical copywriting reviewer has a lot more riding on the copy, so their reviews tend to be far pickier and often unreasonable.

    7) “it some times becomes tedious and cumbersome working with same product” — Agreed! “Technical Writing is similar to copywriting when writing for services” — Depends on the number of services you’re writing about, I suppose. “When you are copywriting, everything is new every time.” — There is a lot of variety, granted. But certainly not everything is new. The same sorts of products and services always pop up, with very similar sorts of claims.

    8) “When you are a technical writer, you have to understand the buyer, the user and the client. It is no different from copywriting.” — In reading back over my point, I agree it’s wrong. In techwriting, you have to understand your client (e.g. your product manager and/or subject matter reviewers) as well as the user. I’m not convinced you need a good understanding of the buyer though. i.e. The person holding the purse strings. The product has already been bought…

    9) “It is a challenge that you should accept SEO concept with copywriting.” — Agreed. My point exactly. It’s not something you have to think about with techwriting.

    10) “When you are a technical writer, you have to be more than clear.” — Yeah, I was probably a little harsh with my point here. Despite what most people think, techwriting does, in fact, involve quite a bit of creativity, as you’ve described. In my experience, though, there’s not as much creativity in the writing. Some, but not as much. There’s a good deal in problem solving, though. “When you’re copywriting, you can be just informal and stick to no specific styles or guides.” — This isn’t so, as discussed above. “You can be creative and that itself makes the job pretty easy for a copywriter.” — When you’re copywriting all the time, managing to be creative ALL THE TIME is very difficult. Over the long haul, it’s probably the hardest part of the job, not the part that makes it easy.

    11) “When you’re copywriting, your job is to write; selling a product is not your department. You will be guided, goaded and driven to perfection by your client or people for whom you are working.” — Actually, this isn’t true. The copywriter does, indeed, play a major role in the selling process, often conceiving the core selling concept, then writing persuasive copy. More often than not, the client will simply say, “we want some copy”. It’s the copywriter’s job to tease out as much information as possible about the job, then supplement any lack with his/her own understanding. What’s more, more often than not, the client doesn’t actually have any idea what is or isn’t compelling copy. They’ll ensure that what you say is accurate, but very rarely do they contribute to whether it’s compelling. “When you are a technical writer, you are a specialized person who has been assigned a job that a copywriter may not be able to perform” — Very true.

    12) “That is where a technical writer stay puts.” — Sorry. Not sure what you mean here. My point is that there’s more bad techwriting going around than there is bad copywriting (proportionally, I mean). So readers and clients, alike, have higher expectations of copy than techwriting. That’s my experience, anyway.

    Once again, thanks heaps for your comprehensive and interesting comment! Exactly the sort of dicussion I love to see here.

    Cheers.

  8. Glenn (Owner) wrote on

    Hi Paul. I’d agree that there’s more creativity in copywriting, especially if you’re involved in concept. However, good techwriters are also very creative. There’s a degree of concept involved in techwriting too. Thinking of the best examples to illustrate your point… Thinking of the best documentation model for your subject matter… Conceiving/drawing illustrations and diagrams… Finding the best words to make complex concepts seem simple…

    Unfortunately, I was a little hasty in writing point 10. I should have made it clearer that techwriting does, in fact, involve a lot of creativity. Usually, however, your writing doesn’t have to appear creative, though. And you don’t usually have to come up with original ideas — just appropriate ways of presenting information.

  9. Steve wrote on

    Glenn, I can’t help smile at the irony of this blog when I think back many years ago when you were in Tech Writing and I was in Marketing!

    I now do a bit of both. Though I’ve spent far more time writing copy of various kinds, I still find it requires far more effort, skill and care. As you say, it has to persuade, the psychology behind that alone, is a lifetime of learning….and I’m still struggling with grammar & spelling :)

  10. Glenn Murray wrote on

    Ah Steve… How cool that you commented here. How the hell are ya?! It’s been a long time!

    Yeah, it is ironic isn’t it? After all my bitchin’ and moanin’ back then! Still, we live and learn. *chuckle*

    We’ve gotta catch up. Next time I’m down in Sydney… Better yet, you should try to make it to SMX early next year (in Sydney). Australia’s best SEO conference. 3 days of very cool (and geeky) search stuff. I’m hoping to make it.

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  12. David wrote on

    Hi Glenn,
    I am sorry for taking so long to post a reply to your reply over my comments. I was away on tour and had missed the opportunity.

    Well it is engrossing to read you response. I really agree with you. I think I might have been a little bit biased owing to my profession. But I truly find the discussion extremely useful.

    Three Cheers to you and all who have been here.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous New Year too.

    David

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  14. Oana wrote on

    Hi Glen,

    I think you made a wonderful choise starting this website. I read several posts and your writing style is quite captivating. I just felt the need to read more…

    I’ve been mostly technical writer for the last 6 years with some small marketing tasks (including technical writing). I also think copy writing is very hard and I totaly agree your 12 reasons why copywriting is harder than technical writing. Tech writing involves writing for specific audience, while copyrwriting also involves creativeness and some market research.

    Cheers!

  15. m. a. cummings wrote on

    Great observations I can appreciate, also having written on both sides…

  16. Drew Eric Whitman, D.R.S. wrote on

    Excellent blog and article, Glenn. I couldn’t have written one better.

    Each profession/task requires its own talents and abilities, to be sure. However, as you said, copywriters often wear MORE THAN ONE hat. They describe, persuade, motivate… all with the final intention of CAUSING ACTION. The action that a tech writer hopes for is UNDERSTANDING.

    Their job is important, to be sure, however a good copywriter–with the same thorough understanding that he/she must have to write convincingly to sell any product or service–should be able to perform the same duties of a technical writer. With clarity of topic and well-developed writing skills, there’s no reason it should be otherwise.

    Keep up the excellent work!

    Drew Eric Whitman, D.R.S.
    Direct Response Surgeon(tm)
    Author of, “Cashvertising” and “BrainScripts for Sales Success”

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      Thanks Drew. Glad we’re on the same page! :-)

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