Technical writer vs technical copywriter: What’s the difference?

June 16, 2015 •
Technical writer feature image

UPDATE May 19, 2023: I’ve just published a much better and more thorough post about the differences between a technical writer and a technical copywriter (and an IT copywriter). I recommend you read that post, instead of this one.


I get quite a few requests for a quote on ‘technical writing’. But 9 times out of 10, what those clients really want is technical copywriting or IT copywriting.

Yes, there’s a difference. But more on that in a second…

First, I just wanted to say I completely understand why clients ask for technical writing, even if that’s not really what they need. Unless you’ve had some involvement with it in the past, it’s not at all obvious that ‘technical writing’ is different from ‘technical copywriting’ and ‘IT copywriting’.

Indeed, I’d wager most people wouldn’t know the difference. Do you?

Quick, without reading any further, can you describe the difference in 10 seconds?

Plus there’s also the fact that I actually offer technical writing as a service! Just to confuse matters. (I was a techwriter in the software industry for 9 years before switching to copywriting, and I’ve done a lot of freelance technical writing since.)

So what is the difference between technical writing, technical copywriting and IT copywriting?

Technical writing

Technical writers usually write online help, printed instruction manuals, functional specifications, procedures and comprehensive technical reference guides. That sort of thing. Often for IT products like computer software and hardware, but also workplace instructions, training materials, ebooks and assembly instructions. (Unfortunately this work isn’t always done by technical writers. The assembly instructions for my TV cabinet, for instance, were clearly written by a domesticated seagull!)

Some examples (click the images to zoom)…

Sample of some printed manuals I wrote for CareerOne:

CareerOne User Manual

Sample of some technical writing I did for the NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS):

Technical writing for government department DOCS

Sample of some online help and printed manual I wrote for some system modeling software:

ABACUS technical writing sample 1  ABACUS Printed Manual

Sample of an instruction manual I wrote for a Bezzera espresso machine:

Bezzera Technical Writing Sample

Technical copywriting

Technical copywriters write persuasive copy to promote technical products and services. Words that attempt to compel readers to buy those products and services, not (necessarily) words that explain how to use them.  That said, if readers require a good understanding of the product or service before they’ll buy, then a technical copywriter may well delve into technical writing territory. But it’s always secondary, and the goal is to explain as little as possible, possibly even make it sound simpler than it really is.

Some examples (click the images to zoom)…

Sample of some technical web copy I wrote for a plumbing pipe relining business:

Technical copywriting for plumber

Some technical brochure copy I wrote for manufactured stone kitchen surfaces:

Silestone Copywriting Sample

Some technical brochure copy I wrote for a chemical tank manufacturer:

Technical copywriting for chemical tank manufacturer

IT copywriting

IT copywriting is basically a form of technical copywriting. Like technical copywriters, IT copywriters write persuasive copy about technical products and services, but those products and services fall within the IT field.

Some examples (click the images to zoom)…

A case study I wrote for Telstra:

Telstra case study copywriting sample

Sample of some SEO copy I wrote for Virgin Broadband:

Virgin Mobile SEO Copy Sample

Some web copy I wrote for an ERP consultancy:

Leverage Technologies Distribution ERP copywriting sample

Some web copy I wrote for a film digitisation provider:

DAMSmart Copywriting Sample

As you can see, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the 3 fields. So it’s completely understandable that clients get them confused. In fact, it’d be surprising if they didn’t! It’s also pretty clear there’s a definite advantage to hiring someone who has proven experience in all 3. Then if the lines get blurry, their writer won’t start squawking like a seagull… 😉

What makes a good technical copywriter?

There’s a big difference between technical copywriting and other forms of copywriting. So it requires a very different sort of copywriter. Learn what makes a good technical copywriter…

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Peter wrote on June 16th, 2015

Technical writing: how Technical copywriting : buy + why IT copywriting: buy:add(why); Copywriting: buy. ... Real writing: once upon a time... :)

comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on June 16th, 2015

I'd say that about sums it up. Not as good for SEO though! ;-)

comment avatar
VIv wrote on August 3rd, 2015

Technical writers are (or should be) employed in numerous fields, not just IT. Medical, engineering, telco, environment, science, government... all have a specialised language. Often to the detriment of their customers, or the general public, and also to themselves if they don't rein in their jargon. In these areas, the copywriting roles in tend to go directly to PR, Communications or marketing. The copy for their websites often goes to the 'web guy'. It may only be once they run into trouble - embarrassment in the media, trouble with a contract, or a change of executives that the value of a technical writer is recognised.

comment avatar
Martin wrote on December 9th, 2016

Thank you for the distinction. I am a technical writer looking to move into technical copywriting, and this blog was very helpful. Is this a natural move, from technical writing to technical copywriting? I find that most technical copywriting positions list technical writing experience as a requirement.

comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on December 9th, 2016

Hey Martin. Thanks for your comment. I wouldn't say it's a foregone conclusion that a techwriter can become a technical copywriter, but techwriting experience is certainly a plus. Techwriting and copywriting are fundamentally different beasts, but they both require some technical aptitude.

comment avatar
Shraddha wrote on July 11th, 2017

Wow, that was a good one! This terms were always confusing for me, now I know what words to search in Google (Google can't read your mind, right ;))

comment avatar
Prachi Rahate wrote on March 3rd, 2019

Can technical copywriting be done as freelancing? If so then how and where to find jobs? Also, how to get those jobs.

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