Cut research time in half with this copywriting checklist

September 28, 2009 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Checklists, Productivity 

Good copywriting starts with thorough research. So ideally, you should be able to take as much time as you need to gather background information.

But in reality, copywriting is always done on a deadline. Too often, you barely have enough time to write about a product or service, let alone do extensive research.

The answer? A copywriting research checklist. Below is a generic checklist I’ve used for years. I’ve also developed others for specific industries or project types. You can use a checklist to collect information quickly or as a structured interview guide.

ALWAYS do as much research as you can BEFORE you brainstorm idea or write a single word. Not only will a checklist save you time on research, it can significantly reduce your writing time because you’ll have something relevant to write about.

1. DESCRIPTION. What is the product or service you want to sell?

2. PURPOSE. What does the product do? What’s the “big idea” behind it?

3. FEATURES. What do you know about it? Facts, statistics, specifications?

4. BENEFITS. What will it do for people? Does it solve a problem, save money, save time, make a task easier?

5. UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION. What is it about this product that is really different, new, better, unique?

6. COMPETITION. Can you describe similar products?

7. POSITIONING. How does this product fit into the market relative to competitors?

8. YOUR COMPANY. Does the company have a special history, unique owner, awards?

9. PRICE. How much does it cost?

10. SAMPLE. Can you look at it or try it for yourself?

11. PROSPECT. Male or female? Income level? Family situation? Lifestyle and general description? In business, what is his/her title/responsibility? Biggest concerns, fears, attitudes? How will he/she use your product to get ahead or to keep from falling behind? For consumers, what main interest/desire/action does it appeal to?

12. SECONDARY PROSPECTS. Who else might want this product?

13. OBJECTIONS. Why would someone NOT want this product?

14. TESTIMONIALS & ENDORSEMENTS. Letters from happy users? Media coverage? Celebrity endorsements?

15. COMPLAINTS. Letters from unhappy customers? Phone calls?

16. ASSIGNMENT. Print ad? Direct mail? E-mail? Brochure? Insert? Broadcast spot? Complete campaign?

17. OBJECTIVE. Inquiries or leads? Direct sales? Traffic building? List building?

18. OFFER. Free trial? Introductory price? Premium? Time limit? Free information?

19. CALL TO ACTION. How will you ask for the order?

20. BUDGET. How much can be spent on this promotion?

21. SCHEDULE. When does this need to be done?

22. LISTS/MEDIA. What have you used in the past? What worked and what didn’t? What statistics do you have?

23. SAMPLES OF PAST PROMOTIONS. Winners and losers?

24. TESTS. Will you test lists, offers, price, creative, etc.?

25. REQUIRED COPY POINTS. What information or legal copy must be included?

26. TABOOS. What can never be said or promised?

27. RESTRICTIONS. Are there parameters you must work within?

28. METHOD OF PAYMENT. Check? Credit card? Purchase order? Bill me later? Installments?

29. METHOD OF ORDERING. Mail? Phone? Fax? Online?

30. GUARANTEE. What are the exact terms of the guarantee?

31. OTHER. What else is important? Research and background material? Demographic studies? Focus group reports? Creative briefs?


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Smart Comments

20 Comments on Cut research time in half with this copywriting checklist

  1. lawton chiles on Sep 28th, 2009 11:16 am
  2. Dean, great post buddy-i will print this out and go through it the next time I have to slave away on a sales letter-which should be soon!

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together-it means a lot.

  3. Dean Rieck on Sep 28th, 2009 11:33 am
  4. Well, the post was easy. I’ve used this form for many years. It helps me and my clients. When I start a project, I often refer the client to a page on my website where I have this checklist. It helps them prepare for our pre-project interview.

  5. Sara on Oct 1st, 2009 12:30 pm
  6. Excellent resource. One I will definitely use. Thank you!

  7. Dean Rieck on Oct 1st, 2009 4:42 pm
  8. Sara,
    I’ve created specialized lists, too. I used to do a lot of software marketing (when most of it was sold by mail) and created a list exclusively for those projects. Saved me a ton of time.

  9. Prabu Rajasekaran on Mar 3rd, 2010 10:21 am
  10. Hi Dean,

    This is a useful list no doubt. Can I put this up in my website?

    Thanks, btw, for being so thoughtful.

    .-= Prabu Rajasekaran’s last blog … Hello world! =-.

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  11. Cynthia Bingaman on Apr 29th, 2010 10:33 am
  12. I’ve been using a variation of this list as my client questionnaire for years. It really does streamline the process for both the client and the copywriter and forces client to think about their target market and how they think.

    Another good question: Pretend you’re a prospect, and think about how the company can best convince you that said company offers the best solution/service/product?

    [...] Cut Research time in half with this copywriting checklist [...]

  13. lawton chiles on Sep 27th, 2010 10:37 am
  14. Thanks buddy. I sent this off to clients and friends.

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  15. Amrit Hallan on Oct 27th, 2010 12:24 pm
  16. Hello Dean.

    This is quite a comprehensive checklist/questionnaire to get sufficient amount of information from the client. Sending all these questions may initially seem daunting to a client so you can quickly customize it but all in all it basically covers everything.

  17. Dean Rieck on Oct 27th, 2010 1:01 pm
  18. Amrit,
    I have this checklist on my business site and direct clients to the page at the beginning of a project. Or, for some clients who may think it’s daunting, I just use it as my reference when I’m talking to them on the phone.

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  19. Giles on Nov 26th, 2010 8:45 am
  20. A great resource, Dean. I’ve been working as a freelance copywriter for just over a year now and tend to find that it’s the initial research stage that’s the most challenging of all. Good copywriters must reach a stage where they know the product or service better than their client. A list of open, generic questions such as the one provided here is essential to achieve this level of understanding.

    I’ll be sure to save this and adapt it to the needs of my business. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Dean Rieck on Nov 26th, 2010 4:04 pm
  22. Giles,
    Glad to help. And good luck with your new career.

  23. Codrut Turcanu on Apr 5th, 2011 3:06 am
  24. phew, pretty lengthy. quite good. I think this should be custom-tailored on a project/niche basis, as you did and create your own. it looks generic for now.

  25. Kent on Jun 30th, 2012 2:51 pm
  26. Thanks for the checklist. I am new in copy writing, hopefully by following your copy writing checklist, I can master copy writing! :)

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