How I show clients what I had in mind when putting together the copy for their web pages.
This might surprise some people (especially those who don’t know me from ye olde art college days), but I’m a very visual person. I relate to things in frames, love composition and lighting, and used to draw a lot.
So, when it comes to writing, sometimes I can feel a bit at sea. Problem being, 50% of the time when I’m working on copy for a website, landing page or even an ad, I’m doing it before the design is in place.
This is actually an advantage – instead of doing the copywriting equivalent of colouring in the boxes, I get to control the pace of the messaging and conversation down the page. But, obviously, the journey down the page is largely a visual one for the reader, and to get a better idea of how that journey might feel, I need to create something to look at.
Here’s where I get the pencil out
It’s helpful to have a visual frame of reference for copy – particularly for a web page – not just for me, but for the designer too. (Not that I would ever presume to tell a designer what to do, but it proves to them I have at least been thinking about the text working visually rather than not at all!).
So, I do sketches like this as I write:
If they look tiny to you, that’s because they are. I do these on A6 pieces of scrap paper, which is why you can sometimes see the print on the other side showing through… Yes, it’s a bit gnarly, but I’m all for recycling.
How did I arrive at drawings like this? They grew out of a time when I was studying existing pages I thought worked well, to get a feel for how the sections were organised, and the best way to order them for an effective experience.
I realised it was useful to reverse-engineer the process to discover how best the messages I wanted to convey could be organised down the page. With the sketch, it was much easier to imagine the reader scrolling and to understand what they might want to see next section by section, and also where best to insert a CTA.
It’s basically the ‘card’ method, where you think about the page like a series of playing cards going down the row in a game of Patience. One on top of the other, progressing in a proper sequence.
Is this the only way to do it?
Not at all. I expect every writer has their own way of conveying their vision for the copy they’ve written.
Some copywriters are big fans of wire-framing software like Balsamiq, where you can create professional-looking layouts designed to also feel a bit like sketches. Many have reported greater success in submitting copy like this, with far fewer queries from clients, as they can see exactly why the writer has positioned copy in the way they have.
Other copywriters use varying degrees of annotation. This can come in the form of larger font sizes, different font types and emboldening to literally show their priorities for the text. Or they might leave the copy in a uniform font and use heavy annotation (stating H1, H1, body text, etc.) to show what they intend.
Personally, I tend to use a bit of both. It probably drives people crazy.
So, why the drawings again?
Well, to be honest, I actually enjoy them. And they offer a little bit of goodwill by being:
- Useful – gives a guide as to my intentions for the page
- Personal – it’s a nice touch when something’s been made by hand
- Flexible – I can always use an eraser if something doesn’t work out
- Non-threatening – I’m not laying down strict guides for the designer
And I find people simply appreciate the effort put into the ‘scamps’, as I’ve learned they’re called in the trade.
Is it the right thing to do?
If you’re a writer, what method(s) do you use to communicate your priorities for the copy, headlines, etc?
Or, as a designer or client, what do you prefer to see from a copywriter? Drop me a line – I’d be curious to know!
Want to get me to do some sketches for your web pages as I write? Hop over to the Contact page and drop me a line!