Swipe Files: The Copywriter’s Secret Weapon

Posted on May 16, 2012 by Matthew R

Imagine: The clock is ticking and the writing isn’t going well. Worse, it’s an important assignment for a client who’s prepared to deliver a hefty fee and a steady stream of work—if they like what they see when they receive your final draft. You need inspiration, and you need it fast, but where can you turn? If you believe in magic, you might think now would be the time to break out the wand and top hat. Seasoned freelance copywriters know better. There’s only one tool for a situation like this—the trusty swipe file.

What is a Swipe File?
A swipe file is simply a collection of proven headlines, advertisements, sales letters, brochures, and other writing assembled by a copywriter to provide inspiration while working on new projects. It doesn’t matter if it is a physical file stuffed with clippings or a digital folder stuffed with PDFs. What is important is that the included examples are well-written and capable of converting potential customers into paying customers.

How Do I Use a Swipe File?
When you find yourself in a tricky writing situation, break out your swipe file and see how past masters have handled it. Every copywriter needs powerful headlines and a series of subheads that can lead resistant readers through a piece of copy and lovingly deposit them at the threshold of a compelling call to action. Every copywriter needs creative ways to demonstrate that their client’s product is the cure for their readers’ pain. These are problems that have already been solved. By having access to a collection of great copywriting examples, you can tap into those solutions. Just choose a piece that corresponds to your situation and use it as a roadmap to a successful draft.

Isn’t This Sort of Like Plagiarism?
No, it isn’t. The point of studying proven examples is not to steal another writer’s words. If you choose to go down that road, you can look forward to a life filled with exciting letters from angry lawyers and snide comments from relatives who urged you to get a real job.

So what exactly is the point of examining well-written copy? While you cannot steal another writer’s words, you can emulate their approach to a problem and the structure of their work. A swipe file provides you with models that have proven successful in the marketplace. As a copywriter, your job is to translate that model into something brilliant and new that perfectly fits the situation before you.

So, How Do I Start My Own Swipe File?
You start by paying attention. Good copy is all around you. When you stumble across an interesting piece of writing, save it. Consider making a small annotation explaining why you kept the piece. This practice will make it easier to retrieve relevant examples when you are working on a tough assignment and time is rapidly slipping away.

By leveraging the power great examples, you can increase your chances of pleasing your clients, converting leads to customers, and winning more repeat business than you can handle. And—if your work is really good—you just might achieve a little immortality of your own by living on in another writer’s swipe file.

Matthew R is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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