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What’s the difference between writing and copywriting?

Find out what distinguishes copywriting from other writing – and why knowing the difference can make all the difference to your business.

What is copy?

The word ‘copy’ ranks pretty high in my everyday vocabulary. Currently, I’m copy-editing an 8,000-word document, putting together a few lines of web copy for a client and writing some back-cover copy for a book.

In this context, the word copy refers to written material that’s intended for publication or distribution. The term dates back to the Middle Ages and comes from the Latin ‘copia’ – meaning both ‘transcript’ and ‘abundance’ – which seems fitting when you consider the copious amount of written output that’s produced and consumed on a daily basis, in print and online.

But if all kinds of text count as ‘copy’ (books, news articles, reports, presentations, user manuals), does that mean that copywriting is essentially… writing? Is all writing copywriting? And if not (it’s not!), then what exactly is copywriting?

What is copywriting?

Copywriting, put simply, is writing that grabs attention and encourages action. It’s the use of language as a means of persuading someone to do something, whether that’s buying a product, signing up to a service or even just registering the existence of a brand among a sea of other options.

Naturally, copywriting is an integral part of advertising and marketing: it plays a role in everything from the tagline that sticks in our mind, to the poster that catches our eye, to the TV commercial that pulls at our heartstrings (and loosens our purse strings). It can equally be found on websites, in shop windows or on the side of food packaging (more on that here).

But copywriting is not just for big brands with big budgets. It’s for every business or organisation that needs their writing to produce a certain outcome. And that outcome can be anything from increasing sales to attracting social media followers.

For example, let’s say you want people to enrol on your online course. How will you convince them to do it? Finding the right words to communicate the value of your course is exactly where copywriting comes in.

It means asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • What do they want/need?
  • How can I help them achieve this?
  • What style of language does my audience like?
  • How can I use this language to get my audience to feel or do something?

Because, ultimately, copywriting is always about your audience – their hopes, their dreams, their needs. You’re not writing for yourself, or for your boss, or for the love of creativity. You’re writing to get a particular message across in a way that will resonate with those you want to reach.

Andrew Boulton puts it brilliantly in his book Copywriting is…

“Like a telephone made from ice cream or a velvet submarine, copywriting that is beautiful but meaningless is not actually copywriting.”

Of course, that’s not to say copywriting can’t be beautiful. Or sophisticated, or creative, or bursting with personality. It can be all of those things and more. But firstly, it has to be functional. It needs to do whatever you need it to do.

So, what are some examples of copywriting?

Here are some places where you’ll likely see copywriting in action:

  • Adverts: print, tv, radio, online
  • Websites (especially home pages, landing pages, product pages, about us pages)
  • Product descriptions
  • Branding: brand names/brand voice
  • Company videos
  • Promotional emails
  • Product packaging
  • Social media
  • Billboards and posters
  • Flyers and leaflets
  • Political campaigns
  • Public guidance (e.g. health information/campaign)

Is this blog an example of copywriting?

Well, this is up for debate because you’ll often find blog writing under another category of writing: content writing.

In practice, lots of copywriters do content writing, such as blogs, newsletters, articles, reports, case studies and e-books. And while there is certainly overlap with the principles of copywriting – like pitching your writing to the needs of your audience – the purpose is, generally speaking, different.

The main aim of a blog, for instance, is to inform, explain and/or entertain. It’s about providing helpful, usually long-form, content that (hopefully!) engages your audience and lays the groundwork for a long-term relationship with your company.

While copywriting typically wants something from its readers (time, money, instant attention), content writing is focused more on giving (information, expertise, advice). A neat way of thinking about it is: “copywriting sells” and “content writing tells”.

Ultimately, it’s useful to know this distinction as you need a mixture of copywriting and content writing to effectively market your business.

Can I outsource my copywriting?

Yes! In fact, it’s often better to have someone from outside of your company craft your copy, not only to spare you and your team time, but also to help you pinpoint exactly what it is you’re trying to achieve. Plus, when you work with professional writers (copy, content or other), you don’t just get the ‘writing’ part. You’ll benefit from all the skills that come with it, including: research, audience analysis, strategic thinking and an understanding of how to use tone of voice (which is how your business ‘sounds’ to your audience). So, if you need help figuring out what to say and how to say it, outsourcing is definitely a great option.

Copy that?

Still not 100% sure what kind of writing you need for your project? Drop us a line at to find out how we can help.

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