What is Copywriting?

Traditional thinking on copywriting places it in the domain of the ad agency, with nattily dressed Mad Men shilling Heineken to the masses via print ads and TV commercials.

While the agency side of copywriting is certainly the most well known, the ever-advancing nature of the Internet is changing the definition of copywriting as quickly as Apple puts out a new iPad. This means strong copywriters are in demand for work, especially in the freelance realm beyond the full-time agency job.

What is Copywriting?

At its core, copywriting is the creative use of language that compels the reader to take action in a prescribed manner. That action could be the purchase of a product, the patronage of a business or even something more personal, like the support of a political candidate. The person who crafts this kind of persuasive communication is referred to as a copywriter, and the text they generate is called copy. Copy, both on its own and combined with design, can also be referred to as “the creative.” (e.g. “Please deliver the creative to George by 2:00.”)

What Copywriting Isn’t

Copywriting is wholly separate from a legal copyright, which is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship, and is regulated by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Copy vs. Content

It’s easy to get copy confused with content. For the purpose of WDU’s Breaking Into Copywriting class, when content is referenced, it means web content of an editorial nature. Web content is informative and/or entertaining text that makes up a web page. Generally, the goal of web content is to raise a site’s ranking in search engines using keywords, thus bringing an audience, hopefully full of customers, to the website.

The explosion of the Internet has blurred the lines between copy and content, but there’s an easy way to distinguish between the two: Copy provokes a very specific action, while Content informs and/or entertains.

There’s an easy way to think about the two in the online space: a web banner ad (those ads you see on the top/sides of most websites) about a new car that drives the reader to click to a website is copy, because it persuades the reader to take a very specific action (click through to the website). The words on the car maker’s product page website about the car (the specs, items you can add to make your car personal, etc.) are content, because they’re giving the reader more information in an entertaining way about the car.

Many elements of copywriting are employed in the creation of web content, and often you’ll see a job listing for an “online copywriter” that is really a web content writing position. Regardless, professional copywriters agree that online copy and content writing is an area of real opportunity and growth right now, especially for freelancers.

This partial lecture came from the course Breaking Into Copywriting


  • Utilize copywriting theory to produce high-quality advertising
  • Generate a professional Creative Brief
  • Write Headlines and Taglines that sell
  • Apply emotional techniques to persuade an audience
  • Create a killer sample ad for your portfolio

Learn More About our Breaking Into Copywriting Workshop!

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