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What is the difference between content writing and creative writing?

  • Written byCarys Thomas
  • Published date 28 February 2022

Writing is a skill like any other, and as such, it requires patience and practice to improve.

If you’re hoping to improve your professional writing skills, you’ll need to have an understanding of the difference between content writing and creative writing. Content writing is often confused with creative writing, but you may be surprised to learn just how different these two writing styles are.

We’ve put together this guide to give you an overview of these two popular approaches to help you expand your knowledge and write with confidence. We’ll start by looking at definitions of each style and then we’ll move on to consider how exactly the two approaches differ, with insights from award-winning writer and UAL short course tutor, Elise Valmorbida. By exploring the two types of writing, you may discover which approach suits you best according to your personal interests and creative goals.

Take a look at our creative writing short courses for more inspiration. You may also be interested to discover the positive power of creative writing and the impact it can have on mental health and wellbeing.

If by ‘content writing’ we mean writing for a client with a brief, then that’s what sets it apart from creative writing: the client and the brief.

— Elise Valmorbida, Writer and UAL Short Course Tutor

So, what is content writing?

The term ‘content writing’ refers to a form of professional writing that is produced to fulfil a particular purpose, often for an online audience. This type of content is generally designed for a specific audience and can be categorised into two key groups, namely, marketing or brand-based writing, which is usually produced for websites or online platforms, and technical writing, which is focused on subjects that require instruction or explanation. When you search how to do something online, for instance, you’re likely to find several examples of technical writing.

Content writers are required to plan, produce and manage content for marketing purposes, including short promotional copy and longer-form stories or articles. They may be involved in producing content for websites, businesses, or government bodies and should have an understanding of SEO (search engine optimisation) principles in order to maximise levels of audience engagement.

Online content may be developed for blogs, social media, newsletters and branding. According to a recent study, 58% of marketers said that original written content is the most important type of content, ranking higher than visuals and videos. Clear, well-crafted copy is essential for businesses hoping to engage with consumers, generate interest in their products or services and increase website traffic.

What is creative writing?

Creative writing refers to a form of writing which draws from imagination or invention in a way that other styles do not. Unlike other forms of writing, creative writing is not limited by the rules or restrictions that dictate other journalistic, technical or academic styles. The term includes a number of different genres and styles in both a fictional and non-fictional context and allows for a level of artistic or creative freedom. Examples include poetry, prose, spoken word, screenplays, personal essays, lyrical writing and playwriting.

There is often a strong emphasis on the value of expression in creative writing, and writers may use character development and plot to express ideas and thoughts in a unique or original way. The process relies on using creativity as a tool to produce a compelling story, which can be achieved by incorporating a series of literary devices like metaphors, alliteration and symbolism to make a work interesting or engaging for audiences.

Elise offers some useful advice for anyone looking to improve their creative writing skills; "the more you practise any craft, the better you get at it. Creative writing classes are great, but you need to continue with practice on your own. This practice involves thinking, writing, editing, reading—and persevering. Do research. Keep a notebook. Read as much as you can, absorbing as much as you can, because reading loves writing. Get feedback. It’s no use just hanging out for applause. Receiving criticism is positive, despite the fact that it might feel painful. This is one of the benefits of classes, groups and organisations dedicated to writing."

So, how are content writing and creative writing different?

1# Purpose

Content writing is generally designed for a specific purpose that involves an outcome which can be measured in some way. This kind of writing may be produced to increase website traffic or boost sales figures, for example. Levels of audience engagement or activity can be measured using analytical software to indicate what kind of content or language appeals to users. This commercial purpose is not a priority when writing creatively, however, and the focus here is instead on personal expression and reflection.

For Elise, the difference between content writing and creative writing comes down to the role of the client or brief; "I never talk about ‘content writing’ because I don’t think of words as mere ‘content'", says Elise, "this implies that there’s some void to fill with obligatory stuff, rather than seeing words as integral to the communication of worthwhile ideas. If by ‘content writing’ we mean writing for a client with a brief, then that’s what sets it apart from creative writing: the client and the brief."

"When I write fiction or non-fiction, I do not have a client to please, a brief to follow, a defined audience to inform or persuade. There are no targets. For me, creative writing taps into something mysterious that is deep inside of me. When I teach creative writing, that’s the approach I take: encouraging students to write from the inside out, and to do this as well as possible by honing their skills. Writing is a craft. It is something you can learn."

2# Tone

Writers working creatively have the freedom to experiment with the tone of writing to reflect their personal style, while content writers are often required to follow specific branding guidelines which are stipulated by a company. They may need to utilise precise, technical vocabulary for example, or adopt an impersonal or objective tone to suit a commercial context.

3# Style

Content writers are frequently required to produce content that reflects a particular style to establish a sense of consistency across a brand. This form of writing is often designed to be clear and precise, and if needed for marketing purposes, may have a persuasive tone or style. Content may be research-based and follow a fixed structure that is designed to reach a clearly defined audience. Creative writing, on the other hand, is not bound to any stylistic limitations, and writers are free to make their own creative choices.

4# Platform

Content platforms for delivery vary between each style of writing. Content writing may be featured on online platforms and is often designed to be quickly visible to a target audience when they search for the topic online, following search engine optimisation (SEO) principles. Creative writing does not need to support such principles, and as such, may be published on other platforms or in other forms, like novels, magazines or newspapers.

5# Timeframe

Content writing often requires a quick turnaround to meet planned deadlines, according to content marketing schedules or campaign milestones. Creative writing is not typically confined to particular time constraints, and the writer is usually able to work at their own pace, allowing time for edits and revisions.

Take a look at our guide on 5 tips to create a successful copywriting portfolio for some useful advice. If you’re interested in developing your writing skills but aren’t sure where to start, you may like to take a look at our creative writing short courses, which aim to help you improve your writing skills in a focused and supportive environment.

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