Do you design your copy before you write it?

September 7, 2009 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Copywriting Tips 

I know what you’re thinking. “I’m not a designer. I’m a copywriter. What do you mean by designing copy before writing it?”

It’s simple. Every type of copywriting follows a certain design or structure. And you have to know the structure before you write the words that will be put into that structure. Okay, you don’t “have to” know the structure, but it sure helps.

Let’s say you’re writing a 12-page corporate newsletter. It will help if you know how many articles are needed, how long those articles should be, the ideal length of headlines so they fit the column width, and so on.  If a newsletter calls for 10 articles that are about 150 words each, you’re asking for trouble if you deliver 4 articles that average 800 words each.

In the case of a newsletter, it’s likely that a designer will give you a template and rough guidelines for your copy. However, in many cases, it will be up to you to suggest the design, even if it’s just a rough idea so the designer will lay things out based in part on your copy.

Here are some tips for “designing” your copy before you write it:

Get samples similar to what you will write. If it’s a brochure, for example, collect brochures that are about the same size as the one you expect to create, with similar folds and features. If your company or client has done something along the same lines previously, note also the design, style, and tone.

Make a list of the elements you want to include. Continuing with our brochure example, this might include a headline on the cover, intro text on the inside front cover, perforated reply form, testimonial block, feature bullet list, photos, etc.

Do a rough sketch of the finished piece. You don’t have to be an artist. Just take a pencil and start scratching out a rough drawing. This will not only help you get a realistic view of what goes where but can also help the designer understand what you want.

If you’re ambitious, create a simple mockup. All you need is some blank copy paper. Recently, I did this for a self-mailer because I was having trouble visualizing the various panels. So I folded a piece of paper a few times and marked it up to show which panels were the front and back cover, the location of the reply card, and the orientation of the address so I could get the fold on the bottom for the Post Office.

Write your copy to your design. Once you’re able to clearly visualize the item, you’ll have a much better sense for what you need to write, how long it should be, and where everything goes. This will save you a lot of editing time later. And you won’t have to deal with the horror of a designer telling you “I need you to cut about half of this copy.” Aargh!

Related posts:

  1. Hype copy that sells and how to write it
  2. How to write “hot button” sales copy in a recession

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Smart Comments

5 Comments on Do you design your copy before you write it?

  1. Mary | Goodlife ZEN on Sep 8th, 2009 9:58 am
  2. Your new blog looks really useful, Dean. I’ve subscribed!

  3. Dean Rieck on Sep 8th, 2009 10:22 am
  4. Thanks, Mary. Glad to have you on board.

  5. Joseph Finora on Sep 8th, 2009 10:34 am
  6. Dean: Nice job on the blog. Any chance you can review my new book: Recession Marketing on it?

  7. Rao H D on Sep 8th, 2009 11:02 am
  8. Dean: You have a way a of telling things–plainly, pithily, and pointedly. A rarity, indeed!

  9. Tim Bete on Sep 8th, 2009 12:47 pm
  10. Dean,

    Great blog! Looking forward to reading it.

    I’ve found it often helps to suggest direct marketing techniques to newsletter designers. Having multiple entry points in each story (e.g., headline, dek, captions) can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of a newsletter.