Copywriting vs Technical Writing: What’s the Difference?
It is important for marketers to understand the difference between technical copywriting and technical writing. First, let’s delve into the murky role of a technical writer.
When we describe writers working for a company dealing with technology or software, we usually call them “technical writers”. But “technical writer” is most often a misnomer because it doesn’t accurately reflect the writing they actually do.
In most cases, when a company wants a “technical writer”, it usually means they want a copywriter who is well versed in the type of technology that the company is selling. Unfortunately, very few copywriters have enough background in technology to truly understand how to market the company’s technical products in a compelling way.
“Technical copywriter” is the best term for a copywriter who specializes in selling software or technical products and services. It can be thought as an overlap between technical writing and copywriting, with a lean towards copywriting albeit subject to some special rules for marketing technically-oriented products.
In a nutshell, these roles can be defined as:
- Copywriters write to sell.
- Technical writers to write to explain.
- Technical copywriters do both.
Sales and marketing of technical products follow a special set of rules because, anytime technology is involved, clarification is just as important as persuasion.
With non-technical products, persuasion alone is often enough as the “how-to” is straightforward. However, with technical products, it is important to clarify how they work before attempting to persuade the buyer of their benefits. Attempting to persuade a confused prospect to buy your product is futile.
For this reason, technical copywriting is one of the most difficult forms of copywriting, but also yields the most value for sellers of technical products and services.
The Marketing Problem With Copywriters
Copywriters usually do not have technical knowledge to effectively persuade buyers to purchase software or technical services. It is very rare to find a sales writer with a STEM background. If you’re lucky enough to find one, that person is more likely a technical writer who creates how-to manuals, reference guides, and product specifications. Hardly the marketing material you need to sell your software or technology.
Many top copywriters understand how to do the research on a product, do a competitive analysis, use their understanding of human psychology to analyze the target demographic that the product aims to help. These copywriters write quite well, too.
But their work usually deals with non-technical products such as insurance, real estate, beauty and skin products, health and nutrition products, clothing, and travel or leisure. There are conventional rules for writing to sell and market products like these. However, many of these rules don’t quite apply to selling technical products like software, digital products, hardware, physical or electrical tools, and machinerysuch as wind turbines or passenger airplanes.
Many copywriters without technical background have attempted to apply their methodology to selling technical products, only to have sales underperform, at best. At worst, sales revenue drop substantially as potential customers are uninspired or put-off, and buy from a competitor instead.
Many technology companies failed or went out of business in this way.
The “Technical Writer” Term is Often a Misnomer
Frustrated with copywriters who “just don’t get it” with the technical stuff, many companies have turned to their technical writers to do the marketing for them. After all, technical writers are deeply familiar with technology. For each product technical writers write about, no one better understands all of its features and how they work in synergy better than they do.
So companies go after “technical writers” for help. They post openings on job boards, ads on bulletins, and enter search terms containing the words “technical writer” on search engines like Google. There usually is no shortage of applicants for these openings and job ads.
But these applicants are not always what companies are looking for. When companies say they want a “technical writer”, 90% of the time they really mean “technical copywriter” because they have products and services they need to sell.
Marketing professionals do know the difference, but it helps to clarify that key difference to people, such as owners or managers of small to medium-size businesses. Owners or managers of startups, small businesses, and even medium-sized companies with under 1,000 employees, may not even be familiar with marketing terminology.
Who Needs Technical Copywriters?
Any company that makes or sells any product or service involving technology—physical or digital—need technical copywriters, which are also B2B copywriters in most cases. Companies that fall into this category include:
Digital Products and Services
- Software makers
- IT companies
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers
Physical Products and Services
- Tech companies that sell products that require R&D and manufacturing.
- Makers of physical tools.
- Hardware sellers.
- Electronics companies.
- Companies that sell any product with moving or adjustable parts.
- Repair and maintenance services of physical technology products.
Examples of digital products include mobile apps like Uber, web applications such as SAP, and SaaS products such as the Aweber list builder. Physical products include solar panels, wind turbines, computer hardware like laptops or tablets, electronics such as hearing aids or fire alarms with strobe lights.
Although the line between physical and digital is becoming blurred with the advent of Internet of Things (IoT), companies developing such products that exist within both physical and digital realms truly need technical copywriters－more than ever.
At this point, you might ask how exactly technical copywriters are different from regular copywriters. Technical copywriting has its own special set of rules on top of conventional copywriting guidelines.
What Do Technical Copywriters Do Exactly?
To distinguish between technical copywriters and technical writers, one needs to first understand what a technical writer does.
A technical writer explains what a product does and how to use it. In the work of a technical writer, there is neither any sales writing nor any use of marketing strategies. Although user manuals, product specifications, and how-to articles are dry and boring, they are never meant to be read in entirety before a sale is achieved. They are used as reference guides for users who have already bought the product.
The Rules of Technical Writing
- Use clear and unambiguous language explaining how to use the product.
- Write at a level appropriate for the target audience.
- Create a table of contents to organize the document’s content.
- Use headings and subheadings to help the reader find the relevant parts they need.
Deliverables From Technical Writers
- User manuals
- Product specifications
- Industry documents
- Reference guides
The Goal of Technical Writing
To encourage post-sale self-support: show how the product works and how to use it after a customer buys it.
Technical copywriting, especially B2B copywriting, is a special subcategory of copywriting with its own set of rules not applicable to selling non-technical products. Generally, copywriters write persuasive copy to promote the benefits of products and services rather than emphasizing their features.
All types of copywriting, including technical copywriting, involve emphasizing unique selling points to set oneself apart from competitors. The goal of all copywriters, including technical copywriters, is to help potential buyers overcome real or imaginary objections while using a powerful Call-to-Action persuading them to buy or subscribe.
The Rules of Technical Copywriting
- Write persuasive copy specifically to promote software and technology products.
- Identify target audience with market analysis and SEO keyword research.
- Assess technical knowledge within target audiences and match writing style to it.
- Use technical acumen with copywriting to more effectively persuade customers to buy.
- Use descriptive technical writing where necessary and simplify until the message becomes clear.
Deliverables From Technical Copywriters
- Sales letters
- Case studies
- White papers
- Email marketing campaigns
- Landing pages
- Press releases
- Advertisements for technical products, brands, and services
Goals of Technical Copywriting
To educate and to sell. In other words, to clarify how the product benefits the customer and to persuadethe customer to buy.
For corporate and business communication material and B2B communication, technical copywriters are especially valuable in giving these companies the most bang for their buck. They understand how to describe technical features of a product while maintaining a clear sense of sales and marketing objectives. Technical copywriters may also have experience in technical writing and thus offer both services depending on the needs of the company.
Increased Reliance on Technology Transforms the Market for Copywriters
We are seeing an increasing overlap between copywriting and technical writing in recent years, as businesses develop an increased reliance on technology. In fact, consumer demand for innovative personal technology is the single largest driver for growth in the tech industry.
2016 was the year the number of mobile app users exceeded desktop computer users. User engagement through mobile devices is as important as ever. Employment in the U.S. Tech Industry is increasing, recently soaring past 6.7 million workers in early 2016. The global tech market will continue to outpace the broader economy, growing at average rates of 4﹣5% with the US market surpassing 5% through 2017.
While information technology (IT) will continue to dominate total tech spending, business technology (BT) spending will approach $1 trillion worldwide towards the end of 2017. The adoption of cloud computing and analytics services will drive spending on software, including SaaS, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), human capital management, ePurchasing, blockchain technology, and fintech, acting as a growth engine in the overall tech market.
Tech Business Needs Remain Unmet as Market Gap Expands
The rapid evolution of the digital and physical technology landscape has resulted in a yawning market gap with respect to finding copywriters with relevant technical knowledge and acumen. To reiterate, many copywriters available do not have the relevant technical knowledge to write the most compelling and persuasive copy for companies selling software or technical products.
The writers that do have sufficient technical backgrounds are technical writers, not copywriters. As demonstrated in this paper, the roles that technical writers fill are drastically different from the roles that copywriters fill. Pre- and post-sale writing serve completely different purposes.
The skills from these two professions are not easily transferable to one another, leaving a huge market gap between technical writers and copywriters. A growing number of businesses have a dire—and unmet—need for technical copywriters with both extensive technical backgrounds and strong sales skills with on-point marketing savvy.
Even companies that do not primarily sell technical products are becoming more reliant on technology to support their business development and marketing activities. They turn to other companies providing these SaaS services and other software and technical products, and herein lies the potential for technical copywriting to do its revenue-boosting work.
Another trend that where many businesses are falling behind is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of their web pages. Although many businesses who own websites are familiar with SEO, search engine algorithms used by Google are becoming “smarter” by the year, meaning that companies must incorporate their own original and quality content into their overall marketing strategy. SEO is another area in which technical copywriters truly excel. Non-technical copywriters often do not understand how SEO works nor how to rank on the keywords their clients want to target—that is, without getting penalized for “keyword stuffing” and other dated SEO tactics.