Content Writing, Copywriting, and UX Writing: What’s the Difference?
There’s no shortage of writing jobs out there — and if you fell victim to any of the recents layoffs in the journalism, publishing, or marketing fields, chances are you’re wading through job sites trying to figure out your next move. Could a former book copyeditor do UX writing? What exactly is the difference between content writing and copywriting anyway?
As a freelance writer who’s done a mix of all three — content writing, copywriting, and yes, even a little UX writing — let me encourage you: words are words. If you’re a capable wordsmith with a creative itch and knack for strategic thinking, you can probably do any of these writing jobs.
But they definitely aren’t the same, so before you hit the Easy Apply button on LinkedIn, make sure you understand what goes into each type of writing. Start here 👇
Content Writing: Helping Readers with Useful Information
Want to know what content writing is? You’re looking at it. This article is an example of the sort of content that companies publish to build their reputation among potential future customers. (Sorry, yes, we do have an ulterior motive.)
Content writing puts the needs of the company’s target audience first and seeks to answer questions that the audience is already asking that relate directly or tangentially to the company’s product or services. Here at Wordtune, that means anything involving words. A plumbing company or exercise trainer would publish very different content.
Content writing is typically longer form. You’re not likely to see content less than 500 words, and the sweet spot is often upwards of 1,500 — enough space to go deep on a topic while focusing on what’s most useful to the reader.
Types of content include:
- How-to guides
- Case studies
- White papers
- Newsletters (print or digital)
- Print magazines (like university alumni magazines)
The goal of content writing is to inform readers, while building credibility for the brand.
Content writers need to be skilled researchers, as well as writers. They need the ability to put themselves into the readers’ shoes, think through the topics and questions the audience is interested in, use research to understand those topics and answer those questions, and then write to the audience in a relatable, informative way.
Though there is still room for creativity based on the company’s brand voice, content writing is less about the flourish of words and more about clear communication. Because of this, many journalists are suited to this type of writing.
How Wordtune helps content writers: Content writers have to digest a lot of information, but research doesn’t have to be a long, arduous process. With Wordtune Read, you can upload documents, links, and text, and have long studies, videos, or other research materials summarized for you — saving valuable time that you can use to write or brainstorm other ideas.
Copywriting: Persuading Readers to Take Action
Have you ever chuckled at the text on a billboard or Instagram ad? Or read an iced tea label to your friends? Or clicked “Add to Cart” after reading a product description? All of those words are examples of copywriting.
Copywriting has a couple main purposes:
- Catch people’s attention to build brand recognition.
- Persuade readers to take action.
The purpose a piece of copy is trying to achieve depends on what level of the marketing funnel it’s being written for.
If it’s “top of the funnel” that’s people who either don’t know about the company yet or are just beginning to learn. Copy written to them is focused on #1 — catching their attention — and introducing them to the brand and what it’s about.
As prospects move further down the marketing funnel, the copy written to them increasingly focuses on persuasion. Often, this looks like more informative copy, like product descriptions or webpages explaining a school’s program offerings. Eventually, the copy will push the audience to take an action, often in the form of a CTA (that’s call to action) button. Sometimes, CTAs are sprinkled throughout the marketing funnel. An early stage CTA might encourage website visitors to subscribe to email updates. Another might direct them to fill out a form in order to download an informative white paper. But eventually, the CTA will push the audience to make some sort of purchase.
All of this is guided by copywriting. Copywriting has an explicit marketing purpose that may or may not be directly evident to the audience. Some copy feels more sales-y than others, and that’s intentional.
Types of marketing copy include:
- Slogans and taglines
- Print and digital ads
- Marketing text messages
- Web content
- Product pages
- Email campaigns
- Landing page copy
- Social media posts
- Direct mailers
- Commercials and radio spots
Copywriters do a lot of background work to get their copy exactly right. They need to understand the audience and the audience’s needs (aka pain points). They also need to understand the company’s products/services, sales goals, and overall brand. Their copy bridges the gap between companies and consumers, ensuring that consumers know the companies exist and can help meet their real or perceived needs.
Copywriters often play with puns, idioms, and humor to write memorable copy that makes an impression on prospects. Creative writers often are suited to copywriting because of the color and energy that’s welcome in this form of writing. In fact, many copywriters treat the company they write for as if it’s a particular character, using beloved sitcom personalities or mashups of cartoons to create a memorable brand voice.
How Wordtune helps copywriters: Wordtune Editor offers a variety of features that copywriters can use to craft fun, unique copy. With Spices, you can brainstorm jokes, examples, quotes, or facts that can liven up longer bits of copy. The “Shorten'' button comes in handy if what you’ve written is too long, and if you need to dress up your language, try clicking “Formal”.
UX Writing: Guiding Users Through a Digital Experience
All of your favorite websites and apps can thank UX writers for their intuitive functionality.
UX writing sits at the intersection of digital design and copywriting, and when it’s done well, it’s practically invisible. People don’t think about the fact that they’re reading a navigation menu or button text — unless the menu or button is confusing.
The text on those digital features are exactly the sort of things that UX writers write — but don’t think they spend their days just putting individual words into place. Like copywriting, UX writing is built on a lot of background work.
UX stands for “user experience”, and it’s a UX writer’s job to make the user experience in whatever product they’re working on as smooth as possible. To accomplish this, a UX writer might conduct user research, study what other websites and products are doing, and test several versions of their work. They may also use design tools like Figma to play with different setups and word choices.
Types of UX writing, aka microcopy, include:
- Words for navigation menus
- Chatbot copy
- Directions to help people navigate a product for the first time
- Error messages
- Settings (like on your phone or in a particular app)
UX writers try to make a digital product as easy and intuitive to use as possible. This requires thinking like both a user and a designer, analyzing other products, and working closely with web or product designers.
UX writers are experts at using as few words as possible, in tandem with digital design, to guide users from one place to another in a website or app. UX writers come from a variety of backgrounds including web and product design and copywriting. Their number one goal? Don’t make the user think.
How Wordtune helps UX writers: In UX writing, the simplest word is often the best choice. But sometimes, you also want to spice it up or run an experiment. Wordtune’s Synonym tool goes beyond your standard thesaurus and uses context to provide alternate wordings that UX writers can use in a/b testing.
Three Common Overlaps Between These Types of Writing
Time to muddy the water.
The reality is many companies may only have one or two people doing all of this in-house. (A good reason to hire freelancers, am I right?) A copywriter may also write UX text. A content strategist may craft marketing copy. A UX writer may contribute to the company’s blog.
But even if a company employs different people for each of these roles, there are still areas where the lines between the types of writing get a little bit fuzzy. Here are three common forms of content that might be created by any of these specialized writers:
1. Web Copy
You’re exploring a website, maybe reading about a company’s services or learning their backstory on the About page. Is this content, copy, or UX writing?
Because websites serve multiple purposes — to inform, to persuade — and must be designed (and written) with users in mind, a piece of web content may fall into one or more of the content, copy, or UX writing boxes.
2. Advertorials, aka Sponsored Content
Open a print magazine or visit a publication website, and you’re likely to stumble across sponsored content or an article with “advertisement” in small text across the top of the page. These advertorials combine editorial content with advertisements. Like typical ads, they build brand recognition, but they also provide useful content to readers, similar to branded blogs — which means they combine the purposes of both content and copywriting.
3. Email Campaigns or Newsletters
The best email campaigns make use of stellar copywriting and seamless UX writing to persuade recipients and drive them to take action by clicking a link, watching a video, or downloading a new offering (among other things). In the meantime, email newsletters are a content vehicle, providing recipients with worthwhile information that may be accompanied by some creative marketing copy and UX-informed functions like surveys or polls.
Multiple writers may work on these emails — or one person may write all of the copy, from the informative content to the marketing blurbs to the UX-informed buttons.
Clearly, there’s no shortage of ways to work with words on a professional basis. The question is: Which one is right for you?
Hopefully, this guide gave you a better sense of your options and what you’re best suited for — whether that’s UX microcopy or lengthy corporate white papers or a hilarious ad campaign for an up-and-coming chocolate milk company. You’re on the precipice of possibility.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.