Copywriting: From A-Z


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Freshly updated for 2022!

Well, here’s a teeny tiny copywriting resource for you…

This is a selfish post.

It started life as a way for me to keep track of all my favourite resources. Then I thought you might find it useful too. And then, because I’m not a fool (honest), I remembered to add links to my own posts. So really, this post is mainly good for me. And if you find it helpful, that’s a massive bonus!

No doubt this monster will change and grow over time as I add things, and as website urls break and I lose links… it’s the circle of life, internet-stylee, isn’t it?

So if you DO spot any broken links (or anything else that’s wrong), please let me know so I can fix it?

A is for audience and alt text

A is for Audience

Working out who your target audience is and understanding them is really important to writing good copy. From settling on a subject to picking the right tone of voice, knowing your audience will help you create copy that’s relevant and effective. Catch up on the #ContentClubUK Twitter chat I hosted all about making your online content work for your audience.

A is also for…

  • Alt text (text which helps explain an image for people who are visually impaired and using a screen reader). Flat White Websites has a great guide to alt tags.
B is for brief, biscuits and blog post ideas.

B is for Brief

Getting the brief right is very important. It’s so important. Extremely important. How are you meant to know what your client wants you to write, otherwise? Too many people spend too little time on this part of the process, but Amy and I are here to tell you why and how to set that right. Amy will tell you why this is so important, and I’ll tell you what your copywriter needs to know as part of the brief.

B is also for…

  • Brand voice – and if you’re looking for examples, here are some great examples.
  • Biscuits, which are an integral part of freelance life. Even if you don’t eat them, learning to chat about them will stand you in good stead for many a conversation with other freelancers online or at networking events.
  • Branding style guides, or tone of voice guides, or brand voice guides. There’s a lot of crossover. ~whatever you call them, this archive is a fabulous resource.
C is for conversational copy, copy deck, CTA, Christmas copy bingo and contracts.

C is for Conversational

Conversational copy is getting a lot of love at the moment and for good reason. It’s engaging and easier to read than the more formal-and-stuffy end of the writing spectrum. There’s more to conversational copy than you might think though. It’s easy to say “write how you speak”, but everyone speaks differently

C is also for

  • Copy, of course: ‘nuff said
  • Copy deck, which is a useful way to present your copy, especially when it’s a big or complex project. Kate Toon has a great podcast on copy decks.
  • CTA or call to action. The bit that tells your reader what you want them to do. Hire me now. See what I did there?
  • Christmas Copy Bingo, the chance for copywriters everywhere to seek out and share festive puns. Follow Vikki Ross on Twitter to join the fun.
  • Contract. VERY IMPORTANT, don’t work without one. There’s a whole section on the Work Notes website about contracts.
D is for design, and direct response copy.

D is for Design

Pretty much any end product that a client is after will be made up of a combination of words and other visuals, so it’s a mistake to forget that your copy will ultimately sit as part of a wider design. Your words are only one part of the final piece, so think about how they will work on the page.

D is also for

  • Direct response copy. Glenn Fisher is a fount of knowledge on this (he’s written a book on it, after all), and he explains direct response copy as ‘copy designed to lead the reader to a buying decision there and then, in that very moment’. His All Good Copy website has lots of information on direct response copy, and if you still want more, buy his book. To start, though, check out this gem from way back in the hazy days of 2013.
E is for empathy and editing.

E is for Empathy

Having a keen sense of empathy is really helpful as a copywriter. A lot of what we do rests on understanding our audience’s pain points, motivations and outlook on the world. Research and statistics play a part in understanding our audience, of course, but a natural sense of empathy can’t be beaten when you’re looking to grab your reader’s attention and keep it!

E is also for

  • Editing. Let me talk you through my editing process.
  • Email marketing. Check out the collections of email series here and here – priceless inspiration if you’re starting from scratch
F is for fonts, feedback and formulas

F is for Fonts

We’ve already looked at the importance of design (see D if you missed it), and the choice of font or typeface is a crucial element of this. In many cases, this will be down to the designer, but when you make your living stringing words together, it’s useful to have an idea of how different fonts affect readers so that you can make the most impact. Let Dave explain more (and before you shout at me about the difference between typography and fonts, respect the need to populate and balance the A-Z – I know…).

F is also for

  • Feedback. Giving and receiving feedback are both art forms. They are skills we can learn and improve on. I’ve put together some pointers for giving constructive, helpful feedback.
  • Formula. There are lots of these out there, and although I don’t think they’re the be-all-and-end-all, they do have their place. For AIDA, PAS, the 4 P’s and way more formula options than you could ever wish for, check out this post from CopyHackers.
G is for grammar and gut

G is for Grammar

This is a tricky one. Some grammar rules are hard and fast, others are not (even if some people think they are). The trick is to understand the rules and to know which ones you can play around with. The advent of the internet has led to a softening of what’s acceptable in written copy. Depending on your target audience, you might bend some of those rules more than others. Or you might throw the rulebook out altogether. There are lots of rules out there, but let’s see what Amy has to say about the dreaded apostrophe.

G is also for

  • Gut. Listen to yours. Yes, planning is really important as a small business or freelancer, but listening to what feels right is also really valuable. Listen to your gut on business decisions, picking clients, and even on the tone of your copy. Just don’t listen to it when it’s getting stuck in on imposter syndrome.
H is for headings and headlines

H is for Headings

And subheadings. Use them wisely! Not only do they help your reader to navigate or skim-read your copy, if the copy is online they will also help search engines to understand your page. The easier those search engines can work out what your copy is about, the better. That might be oversimplifying, but not by much.

H is also for:

  • Headlines. They’re important. Listen to John and also read Dan Nelken‘s excellent book about writing headlines, A Self-Help Guide for Copywriters.
I is for interviews, images and introductions.

I is for Interviews

Interviewing people for your copy can be stressful but also great fun! My top tips include preparing some simple opening questions, some more in-depth questions, and being prepared to abandon both sets if the conversation is taking a different equally valuable and interesting path. Know from the outset what you absolutely need to cover, though, and make sure you cover it. If you can, record the interview (with the interviewee’s permission of course). By recording, you can concentrate on the conversation rather than on taking notes, and you’ll also ensure you get accurate quotes (still check them with the interviewee in writing though, because how people speak and how they want to be recorded on the page can differ). I must write a blog post about this… once I do, I’ll post a link!

I is also for:

  • Images… Words are, of course, great (says the copywriter), but it’s hardly a secret that images help an audience to understand content. They also make the content more eye-catching in the first place. Be sure that any images you use are appropriate, on-brand, and that you have permission to use them. John Espirian has great advice on stock images, and I love this list of image sources from Flat White Websites.
  • Introduction. Tricky beasts, introductions, but André is on the case. My top tip? Don’t assume you have to write it first. Last is often easier.
  • Ideas. Generarting them can be tricky, especially if your brain is in a rut. Creative Thieves from Mac and Moore is a free activity book that explores (and sparks) creativity and ideas. And Deck of Brilliance is, well, brilliant.
J is for jargon

J is for Jargon

Most people will tell you to avoid jargon in your copy. I’m not most people, and neither is André. Find out why in this great post about fitting your jargon to your audience.

K is for keywords

K is for Keywords

Of course it is! Keywords are all about using certain words to get your web copy found and ranked highly by search engines. They used to be a bigger deal than they are now, because search engines have got wise to ‘keyword stuffing’ and that’s hopefully a thing of the past. They still have a practical place in writing for the web, though, and you can find some excellent tips from this SlideShare from Kelvin Newman.

L is for learning, listening, layout and landing pages

L is for Learning

Never stop. Amy tells you why and how to keep on learning as a freelancer.

L is also for

  • Listening. Practice really listening to your clients. You’ll end up with a much better brief and you’ll probably understand their feedback and comments easier too.
  • Landing page. Whereas a home page is the front page of a website, a landing page has a specific, usually short url which directs people straight to the sales page you want them to see. These pages have a specific purpose and you’ll usually be looking at them for measurable results. Let’s get Sally to tell us more.
  • Layout on the page and how people read your copy is REALLY interesting. It’s fascinating how our brains work
M is for meetings and Mad Men.

M is for Meetings

Short, long, complicated or straightforward, meetings are at the heart of much of the world of work. Copywriting is no different. It’s not always possible to meet face to face if your client is based a long way from you (or, ahem, there’s a pandemic), but modern technology is a thing of wonder, with Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp and more making video catch-ups eminently feasible. Some copywriters tell me they take a brief entirely by email and never speak to the customer in person. That seems mad to me. They’re hiring us because they struggle to convey what they want to say in writing, so speak to them instead. I also find it interesting to mix up meetings and have some on video call and some just on voice. People communicate differently when they can’t see you, and you might find they explain themselves better.

M is also for

  • Mad Men. I was late to the party, but what a party! I particularly like this clip – enjoy
N is for networking and niches.

N is for Networking

Love it or hate it, networking is important for any freelance business. But it doesn’t have to mean early mornings and suits, 60-second pitches and awkward conversations. There’s an ever-growing number of less formal options, and don’t forget that targeted, meaningful time spent engaging with others on social media absolutely counts. Great places to start include the weekly #ContentClubUK chats on Twitter, the Female Copywriters Alliance and the community growing up around Freelancer Magazine.

N is also for

  • Niche. Do you have one? Do you need one? It’s a never-ending and unanswered question, but the answer is simple – it’s up to you.
  • Naming. Some say this is part of copywriting, many others would say it’s a separate discipline entirely. I’m not going to say either way, but I am going to say Onym has a fab guide to handy naming resources if you’re interested.
O is for outside.

O is for Outside

As in, get outside. If you freelance from home this might be something you have to make the effort to do but it’s well worth it.

P is for pricing, proofreading and purpose.

P is for Pricing

I think the ProCopywriters survey is an absolutely priceless (no pun intended) resource for this. It can help you position yourself and your pricing, looking at all sorts of variables from location to experience and from working hours to gender. Such useful stuff! It’s also important to think about how you structure your pricing. I’m willing to bet you’re worth more than pricing by word. The copy you produce is a commodity which you are selling, make money for your client. Don’t let them tell you that each and every word is worth the same, or that every piece of copy takes the same amount of time to write. That’s just not true. Often the shorter the copy, the harder it is to get right. There’s lots out there on pricing, but Tom and I will give you a head start. Tom talks about the five stages of pricing, and I bring together a whole load of pricing tips and tricks for freelancers, from freelancers.

P is also for

Q is for quoting

Q is for Quoting

In this case, I’m talking about how you quote for a project. Well, I’m not talking about it, Dave is. And Felicity is here to tell you (and your clients) why cheap copy just isn’t worth it.

R is for reading and repurposing.

R is for Reading

I think writers should read a broad range of styles if they want to feed their imagination. From fiction to poetry to news articles to social media… there’s no right and wrong. Nothing is too highbrow and certainly nothing is too lowbrow. Read for curiosity, read to learn, read for the sheer hell of it.

R is also for

  • Repurposing. Repurposing content is an excellent way to make good use of your work. I’ll certainly be repurposing a lot of this on social (and you could argue that this post repurposes lots of my past posts… as well as ones by other people).
S is for SEO, storyboarding and storytelling.

S is for SEO

Oh yes that mystical magical world of second guessing search engines. SEO is a huge and complicated specialism in itself, incorporating all sorts of elements. The bit I’m going to focus on here is, of course, SEO copywriting. In fact, I’m not going to talk about SEO copywriting. Instead, I’m going to let Ross tell you about SEO. He does it so well.

S is also for

  • Storyboarding, a really useful tool, especially if you’re feeling a bit stuck.
  • Sustainability is (absolutely) a big deal at the moment but it’s become a bit of a buzzword. This guide from Radley Yeldar will help you navigate the comms side of sustainability.
  • Social media, which is a key way to market your business if your’e freelance. Emma and Louise had a fascinating chat about just that, here.
  • Swipe file (or examples of copy you love) and which inspire you. I’m sure you know this one already but just in case… Harry has the answers.
T is for testimonials, technical writing, technical copywriting and tea

T is for Testimonials

Don’t hide them away on a separate page of your website or on the back of a leaflet. Use them throughout your copy to demonstrate and backup what you’re saying. Used well, testimonials are very powerful.

T is also for

U is for unpaid bills

U is for Unpaid Bills

Overdue invoices are a right pain. Find some wisdom here.

V is for visuals and video

V is for Visuals

I talked about images earlier, but don’t forget visuals in their wider form. Graphs, quotes, illustrations, infographics all have their place in making something easier to understand.

V is also for

  • Video. Let’s not forget video.
W is for writers block and wireframe

W is for Writers Block

This one is closely related to lack of motivation and procrastination. The best cure I know is to just write. Failing that, get some fresh air and don’t try to force it. A deadline also does wonders for curing writers block nine times out of ten! If you’re still stuck, have a read of this from Glenn.

W is also for

  • Wireframe – a visual representation of a page and where all the bits on it go. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but you can read all about wireframes here.

X is for (Generation) X

Yeah yeah, I know. But come on now, x is difficult, and I almost gave up. Then I found this post from Tom Albrighton all about marketing to Generation X, so I’m having that. Not only does it solve my x conundrum, it’s a good read, too.

Y is for Yes

Ultimately. It’s often tempting to argue with client feedback, and I’d argue that’s actually part of your job (if your expertise tells you that they are wrong). However, at the end of the day they’re the customer, they’re paying you and the copy will be theirs. So ultimately, if they still prefer their version after you’ve constructively made your point, take a deep breath or two and say yes.

Z is for Zzzzzz

That’s right. Sleep on it. It’s not new advice but it works. If you have the time, write and edit on different days. If you can plan on a separate day before you start writing that’s wonderful too. I’m a huge believer that your brain chips away at problems, coming up with ideas subconsciously while you sleep. Take advantage of that and use it to your benefit! And if sleep doesn’t come easily for you, see if any of the sleep help here works for you. It certainly helped me a few years back.

That’s all folks. Sleep well. And if you’re having trouble dropping off, why not browse the rest of my blog?

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