What Are the Different Kinds of Copy?

Collage of newspaper section headings
••• jayk7 / Getty Images

Freelancers won't get far without encountering the term, "copy." In general, the term refers to written text of any kind in various genres. Many of you familiar with the HBO smash hit "Mad Men" know that copy often refers to advertising copy—or text written specifically to sell something. But there are other kinds of copy, including body copy and just plain copy.

What's the Difference?

Broadly defined, copy is text within a publication or composition. It is in contrast to any graphic or pictorial aspects of a publication, article, or another kind of composition.

Ad copy is text that is used expressly for selling, as opposed to text used for any other purpose, such as informing or entertaining.

Body copy is the text in the main part of a piece of writing, as opposed to the headlines, photo captions, or any text outside the main section of writing.

Further Definition

The article you are reading right now is a kind of copy called web content. It is written with the intent to inform the reader, and not intended to be promotional.

What you're reading now is very different than ad copy, which is clearly written to sell a product. To help you differentiate ad copy from other kinds of copy, think about slogans or taglines used by consumer product companies. For example, General Electric paid an ad agency a handy sum of money to come up with the slogan, "We bring good things to life." I am sure you can think of many other examples. Brochures are also considered ad copy because they are written to describe a product or service they want the consumer to be interested in. Even the advertisements you see on the margins of this webpage contain ad copy.

Body copy, on the other hand, is the primary text of a newspaper or magazine article. The term might also refer to the middle part of an essay. Either way, body copy denotes the central text.

Examples of Copy References

Here are some example sentences using these terms:

  • "The body copy in your essay is moving, but your introduction needs some work."
  • "That Ford ad copy was really convincing."
  • "Can you have the copy to me by 4 p.m.?"

Copy and Freelance Writing

As a freelance writer, you might produce different kinds of copy for your clients.

Often, freelance writers specialize in one particular genre or form of writing. For example, copywriters are those who write ad copy and similar text. Ad copy is usually written by a specialized writer, as opposed to a "jack-of-all-trades" writer. However, some freelance writers are adept at writing all kinds of copy. 

Generally, a mention of "copy" from your client is simply referring to the text you've been hired to write, whether it's for a blog, a press release, their website, or a brochure. 

Mastering the language of your writing career will help you feel more comfortable with your clients and understand their needs better. When you know how to speak the language of your different clients, you know how to deliver whatever kind of writing they need.