The world is full of copywriters. Our work is all around you.
But, as I change careers to become a freelance writer, many perplexed when I mention that copywriting is one of the many weapons in my writing arsenal.
Only last week I received an email that went along the following lines: "I've got a great idea that’s going to change the world, please can you give me some advice on protecting my idea?"
I then had to explain that a copywriter is nothing to do with copyright. It's a common mistake. Copywriting and copyright. It's a simple case of spelling.
Copywriting is a diverse occupation that is difficult to pin down. Every copywriter is different. Some pen adverts and some write technical documentation. Some work as a freelance writer and others work in-house.
I can forgive those individuals who are confused by the term copywriter - it's almost beyond definition. But there is one aspect that binds all copywriters together: working with words on a daily basis.
More than words
When I put on my copywriter hat (I also have a journalist hat, blogger hat, ghost writer hat and a fez) I spend all of my time writing. Hats off for the copywriter stating the obvious: as a freelance copywriter, I write.
But, as the real world and virtual world increasingly overlap, a copywriter is more than just a writer. There are a lot more hats to wear and a lot more skills and tasks to carry out.
A modern copywriter needs to understand the accessibility and usability standards of the web. It all goes back to the target audience. I need to know how people use a specific website to write effective copy for that website. I need to understand SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) principles so people can find my work, write call to actions and work with other experts to make sure every word is optimised for the audience it's hungry to find. My time working as a web developer has helped, but it's a mammoth task.
Copywriters are often associated with sales and marketing efforts. We're the people behind the catchy headings and snappy strap lines. Just do it? Every little counts? That's us. I understand why so many make the link. But copywriting is more than writing standout sales pieces. A lot more.
Copywriters are the writing equivalent of chameleons. The role demands the flexibility and skills to adapt to different projects, clients and formats. One day I may be writing about the nuances of tax legislation for an accountancy blog, the next I'm putting together a series of articles for a niche optics magazine. Copywriters adapt quickly and meet tight deadlines.
Copywriters can also understand and write for a target audience.
This is the must-have skill: the ability to think about who our audience is and how we can reach them with our writing.
There is always a goal with a copywriting assignment. Whether it's to sell a particular product or get users to click through to specific page. Copywriters influence people's behaviour with their words. You can only achieve this if you know who you're writing for. That involves a hefty amount of research and analysis, which is something I am all too familiar with as a former research scientist.
Because of the link with the advertising world, some people believe copywriting is a little insidious in nature. A sort of style-over-substance way of writing. Others think the opposite is true and that copywriters are over-functional and soulless individuals. Both are complete misconceptions.
Every copywriter needs to find the most appropriate and clearest way to communicate with their audience. You can't ham a subject up, or dumb it down. Just find a simple way to transfer a message.
Is that it?
Afraid so. It's impossible to pin down everything I do as a freelance copywriter in just a few hundred words. But that is the point of this post. I'm a flexible brand of writer and every copywriting job I complete is different to the next.
That's why I love being a freelance copywriter. I get to write in all manner of voices for a wide range of audiences. This hones my skills as a professional freelance writer. It also means I get to wear a lot more hats.
Fellow copywriters - what misconceptions have you come across about your role? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology