Compensation comparison: Technical vs. traditional writers

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March 19, 2021
5 minute read

One of the biggest perks of being a freelance writer is setting your own rates. No matter the client or project, you’re in charge of dictating how much you earn—right? Unfortunately, it’s not always that straightforward.

There are a number of factors that influence how much money you can earn as a freelance writer, including the type of writing you do, your experience level, your education, and your location.  

Whether you’re just starting a writing career or want to see how your current rates stack up, it’s helpful to understand national compensation averages for common writing jobs. Having more information at your disposal gives you a better idea of what to specialize in and how to adjust your pricing (and your expectations).

Keep reading for an in-depth compensation breakdown below.

Technical writers vs. traditional writers

Technical writers, copywriters, journalists, and content writers all charge different rates for their work. Let’s dive into each type of writing to learn more:

1. Technical writing

Technical writing describes technical tools, processes, and concepts. You can see technical writing in blog posts, case studies, white papers, research summaries, legal documents, user instructions, and online help sections.

Depending on the type of technical writing job you have, you may need a technical writing certification or a degree in a specialized field, such as computer science or engineering. At the very least, you should be skilled at explaining and simplifying complex ideas.

2. Copywriting

Copywriting is a broad field that encompasses many other types of writing, such as SEO writing, advertising writing, social media writing, and email writing. Copywriting generally refers to any writing used to sell a product or service.

You don’t need a degree or certification to become a copywriter, but you should be able to adopt brand voices easily, write persuasively, and understand basic sales tactics.

3. Journalism

One of the most traditional forms of writing, journalism refers to articles, exposes, and opinion pieces that appear in print publications and online news sites. Many successful journalists have journalism degrees, but you don’t necessarily need one to work as a freelance journalist today.

You should, however, have a deep understanding of journalism rules and ethics, as well as the ability to research, interview sources, and fact check quotes and statements for accuracy.

4. Content writing

Content writing, also called content marketing writing, is writing used for marketing purposes. Content writing can show up in blog posts, articles, case studies, ebooks, infographics, and video scripts.

You don’t have to get a degree or certification to become a content writer, but it’s important to educate yourself on the niche you’re writing about. You also need to be able to research, write in different brand voices, and incorporate product mentions into your work.

Compensation comparison

Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to earn as a technical writer, copywriter, journalist, and content writer. Keep in mind, though: these are just averages based on annual salaries. Every company and employer will pay a slightly different rate.

Salary average per year by experience level

Data compiled from Salary.com.

Entry (0-2 years of experience)

Intermediate (2-4 years of experience)

Senior (4 or more years of experience)

Technical Writer

$58,000

$69,600

$86,800

Copywriter

$51,597

$66,257

$80,828

Journalist

$37,357

$43,642

$54,841

Content Writer

$46,201

$57,967

$79,880



Salary average per year by region of the US

Data compiled from Indeed.com.

Job

Top 3 highest paying cities

West

Southwest

Midwest

Southeast

Northeast

Technical Writer

Dallas, Seattle, San Diego

$78,205

$61,304

$50,755

$55,095

$73,171

Copywriter

San Francisco, Seattle, New York

$67,422

$53,628

$78,905

$59,533

$71,281

Journalist

Washington DC, Chicago, New York

$39,577

$36,562

$51,691

$33,616

$46,345

Content Writer

San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles

$56,129

$50,168

$55,290

$52,162

$63,128



Freelance writing pay rates

Though the annual salary averages above are eye-opening, they don’t correlate perfectly to freelance or contract writing gigs. There are a lot of factors that determine your income as a freelance writer, including your level of experience and negotiation skills.

If you’re new to freelance writing and don’t have any writing clips or client testimonials, you may have a tougher time proving your monetary value. On the other hand, if you have a robust portfolio that features work from high-profile companies in desirable niches, you might have more confidence to charge higher rates.

At the end of the day, though, confidence and experience mean nothing if you’re writing for clients with small budgets. To earn more, you have to cultivate valuable writing skills, then find the companies and publications willing to pay for those skills.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when setting your freelance writing rates:

  • What are the standard rates for the type of work you do?
  • Do you have a degree or other type of certification?
  • How much writing experience do you have, and with whom?
  • Which writing formats or subjects do you specialize in?
  • How much time, expertise, and effort does the work take?
  • How much do you need to earn per month to reach your goals?
  • How much value do you add as a writer?

Make sure you research the market standard for the writing you’re interested in. For more information on average pay ranges, check out the following resources:

For technical writing, you could earn $0.25-$1 or more a word for a white paper or ebook.

For copywriting, you could earn $25 to $300 for a single email; $100 to $500 for a page of web copy; and $300 to $1,500 for a landing page.

For journalism writing, you could earn $50 to $400 for an online news piece and $1 or $2 a word for a print piece in a prestigious magazine or newspaper.

For content writing, you could earn anywhere from $0.10 a word to $1 a word for articles and blog posts, and $0.50 a word or higher for customer success stories.

Set yourself up for success

Once you start earning money as a freelance writer, it’s smart to get organized. You can earn more per assignment if you don’t have to spend time creating invoices from scratch or chasing down payments. With Wave Invoicing, you can send custom client invoices and set up automated payment reminders, so you get your money faster and with less hassle.

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