What is copywriting?

Nick Harland
June 2021
what is copywriting

What is copywriting? Why is it called copywriting? Let's take a look.

Copywriting is used to promote a product or service. Think of it as marketing writing. It is used to persuade the reader to take an action such as purchasing a product, downloading something or clicking a link. The words that you find in promotional materials (websites, blogs, emails, landing pages, brochures, catalogues) are referred to as copy.

Copy vs prose and verse

Aside from copy, the other main types of writing that you’re likely to come across are prose and verse.

Prose is the name for written language that appears in things like novels, newspapers and magazines. Whilst it closely resembles the format and structure of copy, prose is likely to contain more literary devices and typically be written with more flair. However, the main difference between the two is the purpose. Copy is written to persuade the reader to take action (sign up, download, purchase) whilst prose generally does not demand the reader to take any specific action.

Verse, meanwhile, is a more rhythmic form of writing most commonly found in poetry and song lyrics. It does not stick to standard writing structures and will often instead incorporate cadence or rhyming. Verse may omit traditional features of writing such as paragraphs, line breaks and punctuation in order to accommodate even more literary devices and creative instruments. Taking the example of a haiku, each line must contain a certain number of syllables - something which is very rarely a consideration for prose or copy.

Copywriting can encompass elements of both prose and verse in order to achieve the desired result. As we mentioned, this is because it is predominantly the purpose rather than the form which sets copywriting apart. However, it is much more typical for copy to resemble prose than verse. It generally follows standard grammatical structures, employs paragraphs and does not sacrifice readability to incorporate things like rhyming structures.

It would take a very brave (and very creative) copywriter to fully incorporate verse into their work! Within copywriting there is a need to be clear and concise with your messaging, something which verse is naturally not. 

Think about the most common form of verse: poetry. It tends to be packed with hidden meanings that can only be gleaned from reading between the lines and possibly studying the poem in-depth. Most copy will be quickly scanned through by readers, making fancy literary allusions pretty redundant. Saying that, it’s obviously not beyond the realms of possibility to incorporate something like rhyming couplets into copy - if you keep it simple like in this example:

What types of copywriting are there?

Copywriting can be classified into several different niches. But we might divide copywriter specialisations into three different categories: industry, format and purpose.

Industry-specific copywriters focus on a certain industry that they have accrued plenty of experience in. This may be particularly beneficial to companies in fields such as law, finance and healthcare, which often require specialist knowledge that cannot be easily researched. Therefore you might come across healthcare copywriters, fintech copywriters or legal copywriters who only work within that industry.

Copywriters may also choose a niche based on the purpose of their work. A sales copywriter specialises in writing copy that drives sales - regardless of the company’s industry. An SEO copywriter focuses on writing content that moves your website up the search ranking. A very modern role that has only sprouted up in the last few years is a UX Copywriter, or UX Writer. As the name suggests, the purpose of a UX Writer is to use language to improve the user experience of a digital product such as a website or app.

Finally, copywriters may also classify themselves based on the format of their copy. Some examples of this include a web copywriter, sales deck copywriter, email copywriter or landing page copywriter. They work across different industries and with different purposes, but specialise in their chosen format.

Having said all of this, there is no one single way to classify the different types of copywriting. An informational blog about a new model of mobile phone, for instance, could simultaneously be classed as website copywriting, SEO copywriting and technical copywriting.

So, what is copywriting?

It is the act of writing for marketing purposes, often with the purpose of persuading the reader to take action on something. It can resemble both prose and verse in terms of style & format, but the purpose is what ultimately sets copy apart from other forms of writing.

Nick Harland