What does it take to write a piece of copy?
Updated: Apr 26
To get the best possible content, you need to know what to expect from your copywriter. It helps to understand what’s possible, where your budget is best spent, and what you can do to streamline the process.
One of the most dreaded phrases a copywriter can hear from a client is “it just needs a quick edit”. Because there’s far more to writing good copy than choosing some good words to replace some bad ones – and a “quick edit” often means sacrificing a lot of the work that makes the most impact.
So, for anyone thinking of commissioning copy, or trying to understand why a low wordcount doesn’t mean a low cost, here are some of the steps involved in a typical copywriting job:
Intelligence gathering stage
1. Reading background information
If a writer isn’t well informed about a brand, a product, or a campaign, it will show in the copy. Bland, generic descriptions don’t inspire readers.
2. Reviewing competitors
To help you stand out from the competition, we need to know what the competition are saying. We’ll come at it with the same external, unbiased opinion as your potential clients.
3. Scoping a project
Sometimes, it takes a conversation with someone outside your organisation before you understand what it is you’re looking for. It might be one phone call or a series of workshops, but defining your goals is one of the most important elements of a project.
4. Reading tone of voice and brand documents
Consistency is key to creating a strong brand. We review tone of voice and brand guidelines to make sure we can accurately reflect your personality.
5. Interpreting complicated source copy
Clarity is a key aim for most copywriting projects. If source materials are hard to read and hard to understand, we need to make sure we’ve nailed the meaning so we can help your readers understand it too.
6. Interpreting a confusing brief
No one sets out to make a confusing brief. But often the aims of a project aren’t that well defined, or there are some angles you might not have thought about.
7. Making suggestions for a better brief
We won’t just go along with suggestions if we think there’s a better way to do things. Questioning a brief is one of the ways we can add value to your project.
In many organisations, the subject experts have a lot of knowledge they hadn’t thought to pass on to the marketing team. We often conduct interviews to draw out those hidden gems.
9. Consumer research, market research, facilitation sessions
If you don’t have the information you need, and there’s no one in your address book who can provide it, it’s time to conduct some primary research. This can take many forms, but the aim is always to make sure your content is informed by real evidence.
10. Notes and follow-up from interviews or research
If something has brought new information to light or made us rethink the brief, it’s time to regroup and make sure everyone’s happy.
If you just wanted us for some pretty words, you’d be better off with a thesaurus. We factor in thinking time to make sure we haven’t missed something that will make your copy great.
12. Planning structure
Unstructured copy is a horrible mess. Like putting a roast dinner in a blender. A clear structure presents an argument in a logical and persuasive way.
13. Planning content
As well as a clear structure, you need content to fill that structure. We’ll put readers first and foremost when we’re deciding what goes where.
14. Planning themes
Some content needs a theme to make sure there’s a common thread running through it. Our suggestions will all be informed by the research we’ve done in the earlier stage of the project.
15. Developing a strategy
Where more than one piece of content is involved – say, a series of emails or an advertising campaign – it’s not enough to just get going. We often get involved in the strategy planning stage to make sure the campaign content feels coherent.
16. Looking for missing content
Even with the clearest brief in the world, there’s always a chance of gaps in information. Best not to ignore them.
17. Writing a draft
Finally, the good bit! The first draft should be pretty much spot on in terms of content, but we often push the tone so you have something to react to and think about.
18. Editing existing copy
Sometimes budgets and timings don’t allow for creating all the copy from scratch. We can combine our research and planning results with existing content to speed up the creation process.
19. Reviewing and improving draft copy
If we just wrote copy in one go and sent it straight to you, there’s no knowing what it might contain. All writers need a bit of time to reset their brains and come back looking at copy with fresh eyes.
20. Applying tone of voice
Writing in a brand tone of voice is a bit like pretending to be someone else. Often, we’ll need to go over copy a few times to identify any missed opportunities to express your values.
21. Special considerations, like international readers, SEO, accessibility
Your content has a purpose, and sometimes that purpose means we need to factor in special considerations. If it’s to be read in English by people whose first language isn’t English, for example, we’ll need to avoid certain phrases.
22. Visual cues
Design and copy might be distinct disciplines but they’re completely inseparable. With our thorough understanding of the content, we can provide suggestions or ideas to inform the design.
23. Cutting out things
The first draft is just a brain dump, getting ideas on the page. But readers don’t care about every detail, so we need to carefully pick over the content to keep only what’s important to them.
24. Meeting a word count
Limitations can often increase creativity, but the more restrictive a word count, the harder it is to make sure the important points are covered.
25. Applying a template or page structure
Pre-existing templates, for an email newsletter perhaps, mean we’ll spend a bit of time making sure the content is making the best use of the format.
26. Fact checking
Aside from being embarrassing, some claims could even land you in trouble if you’re wrong about them.
27. Reviewing feedback
Giving constructive feedback is a real skill as it can be hard to put your thoughts into words. We spend some time thinking about how to apply feedback to make sure we’re achieving your goal.
28. Interpreting feedback
If there are lots of stakeholders involved, there will always be someone who hates the copy. Rather than get upset about it, it’s important to think about what their reaction means and how we can work to resolve it.
29. Finding a way to implement feedback
The more people involved, the more likely opinions will clash. We’ll try to balance the amends to take into account people’s seniority in the organisation or familiarity with the subject – or any other factor you feel is important.
Bad grammar and speling luks unproffesional. Our writers will always give copy a basic check. But to make sure no errors get past us, our professional proofreader can look through as well.
How many steps does your project involve?
Some projects will only include a few of these steps. But some will include all of these and more. So while it’s not a comprehensive list, hopefully you have a newfound appreciation for the amount of work that goes into every word.