6 Tips for Writing Great Digital Copy (from a Designer)

I recently wrote a blog post for creative collaboration service, Hightail on why I think design should lead the way when it comes to kicking off digital projects like websites or landing pages. Meanwhile over here at Scripted, Adam Griffith was arguing the exact opposite point (he’s got a lotta nerve).

Taking extreme sides when debating a topic is fun and often valuable, as long as you’re not entrenched in your position. While I remain a believer in a design-led process, I also like what this designer said in a comment on Hightail’s Facebook page, “When it comes to design approach, good design-thinking practice would consider resolving both content and interface together, iteratively.”

Yeah – let’s all us writers and designers find a hilltop, join hands and work together in perfect harmony. The best work I’ve done has always been the product of true collaboration. It may not always be easy but it’s a sure path to success.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d provide all you writers with some tips that will help you work well with your design team. All together now: “I’d like to teach the world to…”

  1.   Keep it short and simple

A usability research report conducted by web analytics service Kissmetrics showed that people don’t read headlines properly and instead scan the first three and last three words. This suggests that a good headline should be short – think New York Post, not The New York Times. Not having to cram a 32-word epic header in the design will also keep people like me happy.  



  1.   Be firm and consistent about punctuation

I believe that every pixel of my design is important so I get that you think the same about every comma and quotation mark. Be clear when you expect an em dash, whether you want periods in headlines and what words should be capitalized. Just make sure you’re consistent about it. It gets confusing for everyone if you have a period in one heading but not in another.

  1.   Know when images will tell your story better

A writer I know was once working on a company’s Careers page. The HR manager felt like the copy wasn’t getting at how much fun it was to work at there. The writer’s response was to suggest adding photos that showed employees having a good time. The result was way more effective than copy that literally said “fun place to work”. As a writer you need to know when to step back and let visuals take the lead.  

marketing copy

  1.   Focus on your CTA

A good design will most likely aim to lay out some clear and concise information and quickly follow it with a single, simple call-to-action. Your copy should do the same. If you have an attention-grabbing headline that isn’t very informative about your product or service, don’t expect the next step to be a button click. You may need a more explanatory subhead or have your button copy to do the heavy lifting.

  1.   Be decisive about changes

Don’t worry, most designer won’t expect you to show your copy to the CMO in a word doc. We’re happy to drop your first draft into the design-in-progress so people can judge the words in context. But as feedback starts flying around, don’t expect me to make decisions about what edits to make based on the comments. Be clear on what you want to change before we update the design.

  1.   Make your edits on the design

It’s harder for me, more tedious for you and less accurate in general if your changes are all written in an email filled with descriptions like “third section, 2nd para – change i to I”. You may be a wordsmith but (to paraphrase Madonna) we are living in a visual world and I am a visual girl/boy. Use a collaboration service like Hightail to leave comments and copy changes on the design itself, so all the feedback is contextual and collected in one place.  

marketing copy

Those are my 6 tips for how writers can collaborate more effectively with designers. What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

If you’re interested in a writer’s perspective on what design can do to build a better relationship with their copy providers, check out Scripted’s post over on the Hightail blog.