Start a Swipe File for Writing Inspiration

Linda Mulcahy
May 23, 2019

Does this sound familiar:

Stare at the blank screen.

Wonder how you’re going to pull off this assignment.

Type and delete. Type and delete.  

Reread the customer brief for the umpteenth time.   

Type and delete. Type and delete.

Make the rounds on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Stare at the blank screen again.  

Repeat.

Writer’s block (and the inevitable social media procrastination) is common for copywriters.

Do you know what helps? A swipe file.  

What Is a Swipe File?

A swipe file is a collection of outstanding copy examples that you can refer to when you need inspiration.  

Marketers use swipe files because, let’s face it, coming up with a brand new, never-before-seen idea is a reach for most of us. But reinventing, innovating, or tweaking someone else’s great idea? That we can do.

And we should! Modeling the masters is a time-tested approach for developing skills and becoming experts ourselves. Plus, our copy stands a better chance at delivering good results if it’s patterned after copy that has been proven successful.   

It’s kind of like how young basketball players watch videos of Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant and then try to imitate their jump shots. Good copywriters learn from the experts in their trade, too.

Note that we’re not going to copy someone else’s work word for word and pass it off to our clients. That’s plagiarism. And that’s not the point of a swipe file. No, the point is to learn and gain inspiration from copywriting that works.

Digital or Physical Swipe File?

How to curate your swipe file is up to you.

One option is to keep actual papers in a physical file. This works well for copy you want to swipe from newspaper and magazine advertisements, brochures, flyers, and direct mail pieces, such as credit card offers and fundraising letters. You can also print screenshots of copy you see online and place those examples in your physical file.

The other option is a digital swipe file. This is an obvious choice for saving emails, landing pages, Facebook ads, and a variety of web copy. Programs like Evernote are ideal for a swipe file because you can organize with tags and add your own notes to each addition.   

How to Set it Up?

To start, create files for different categories of copy. Your categories may vary depending on your targeted industry or niche, but here are some examples:

Be on the lookout for great copy. What subject lines made you open an email? What headline made you think, “YES! I want to know more!” What sales letter had you reaching for your debit card before you even finished reading it? These are all good examples of swipe-worthy copy.

Of course, you’re not the only target for all good copy. So look beyond your immediate environment, too. Look at websites in and around your niche. What are they doing well? Subscribe to emails from companies you admire and study how they structure their messages. Swipe what looks good.

How to Use It?

Don’t just let your files accumulate. Set aside some time every day or every week to study them.  

Analyze each piece. Read the copy several times and write some notes.

Ask yourself why this copy worked? What was its purpose and how did it succeed? What language evoked emotion? How did the storytelling draw you in? Was there a particular phrase or sentence structure that caught your attention? How did the author make that voice sound so authentic? What made you want to click on the CTA?  

Then, when you’re stuck with blankscreenitis, your swipe file will be there for the mining. You’ll have a growing collection of effective copy examples along with your own insights to help direct and inspire you.

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