The smart copywriter’s guide to copy decks: presenting your copywriting (so your client loves you before they read it)

I’m often asked about copy decks. What are they? What does one even look like? I’m often asked about copy decks. What are they? What does one even look like? And there’s no judging from me as I asked the same questions as a new copywriter. 

But when I’m asked something more than twice, it’s an invitation to pop on my cape and shout, TO THE BLOG!

So, here we are. This post breaks down what a copy deck is and why it’s an essential template in a professional copywriter’s arsenal.

What is a copy deck?

A copy deck is a document containing your copywriting. It has all of the information your client (and probably their website developer too) needs in relation to the copy you’ve been hired to write.

I think the term ‘copy deck’ has roots in ‘Agency Land,’ but every freelance copywriter I know uses some kind of document template for every piece of copywriting they hand over.

Can’t you just bung your copy into a document and email it over?

Well, yes, you can do that. But what happens when your copy is printed out and popped onto a desk, along with 30 other documents to be read and then shuffled around? Your client picks it up and vaguely remembers it’s their website copywriting but… Who wrote it again? When was it sent through? Is this the final version?

Confusion reigns!

A good copy deck serves a few purposes.

  • It makes it easy for clients to read the copy.
  • It makes it easy to implement the copy.
  • It makes you look professional.

What goes into a copy deck template?

I like to keep my copy deck template relatively simple. I don’t want them to be intimidated by the document before they’ve even read my copy so I don’t overload it with too much information in case it distracts my client from the words I’m presenting.

The first page is an introduction to the copy. It’s my chance to (re)sell the copy to my client.

That’s right. They have hired me and paid me some money to get started but if they are going feel awesome about the money they’ve spent, I need to sell the copy.

Introductions

The first few pages of my copy deck are broken into sections:

  • Cover page header: with project details: Contact name, Company name, Project name and date.
  • Summary: I ease the client into the document by summarising what they are about to read, including how the document is broken up. I also recap the objectives of the piece, the tone of voice and brand personality from the brief.
  • Explanation: I provide some notes on my approach to the copy including any specific points on the choices I’ve made (to highlight my expertise!).
  • Revisions: Before I get into the copy, I share some tips on how to physically enter feedback (track changes!)
  • Notes on formatting: Some extra advice on interpreting formatting notes like H1, H2 tags and other layout suggestions.

Then it’s into the copy!

Each component of my copywriting is presented in a table with the following headers:

  • Project name
  • Client business name
  • Contact person
  • Date of delivery plus version, e.g., 01/07/2015 V1 (of 3)
  • Notes specific to this particular page (if different from the introductory notes)
  • The copy

Copywriting Copy deck table

The first four sections of the table are pretty obvious, but they are important to keep track of what you’re doing. This becomes essential if you’re working on multiple projects for the same client.

Great notes can boost how much your skill is appreciated

I include notes for each page of the copywriting. If we’re into the revision stage, those notes cover what was requested and what has changed.

Sure, I could just track the changes so they can see what has changed, but I find that tracking changes becomes distracting if there are more than a few small changes. You don’t want to distract your client from your copywriting.

Remember, as a copywriter, you’ve been hired for your expertise. Sometimes, an idea or a turn of phrase can seem deceptively straightforward. That doesn’t mean it was easy or written without thought. It pays to explain your process and rationale to remind clients that your expertise is at work. If I have a lot of notes, I just pop them on a separate introduction page.

If I’m delivering online copywriting, I include the following:

  • Page URL
  • Title and description tags
  • Links

Clients often don’t need this information but website developers need to know which anchor text will be a link and what the link address (URL) will be. I usually underline the text in the copy and then repeat it with the URL in a section under the copy.

Copy deck screen shot 2

You could embed URLs in the copy but again, you don’t want to distract your clients from the copywriting. Can you see a theme emerging?

Reinforce your professionalism

I’m talking about branding. Every single document you give a client should be branded like a MOFO and include your contact details in the footer.

Why? There is the functional aspect of making sure your client knows who wrote their copy and how they can contact you. By putting your branding and contact details on every page, you make it easy for your clients to do that.

Making life easier for your copywriting clients shows you care. And the branding helps you look professional.

Want to level up your copy deck template even more?

All of the elements I’ve listed so far are pretty much essential for a basic copywriting copy deck. The purpose of this information is to make sure your client understands the copy in front of them (and to feel like you’ve done your job, well) and to make it easy to implement once it’s approved.

The easier you can make the revision and implementation process, the better! As I said, making life easier for your clients shows you care. And that’s what will get you repeat business.

So, if you want to level up your copy deck, include instructions or tips on the review process.

Why? Because many people don’t know how to give effective feedback.

When a client has no framework within which to give you feedback, they’ll often say, “I don’t like it, but I can’t tell you why.” This is no good for you as the copywriter. No good at all.

And it’s not the client’s fault! If you want helpful feedback on your copywriting, show them how to give it. Your copy deck is a great place for that advice because it’s with the copy.

Then, if your client doesn’t like your copywriting, they have some aspects to review more critically. This helps them articulate specifically what they don’t like. It also gives the clear signal that the review process is a process, not a quick read through with thoughts blurted out.

It can also be helpful to remind your client that they don’t have to rewrite copy they don’t like. They can leave that to you (that is why you’re getting paid after all!).

TIP: Assume that your copy is going to get passed around. Make sure it’s clear what this copy relates to, who owns it and how to get in touch with you again. The role of the copy deck is to help you get your copywriting approved faster by making the review process as straightforward as possible.

Download a copy deck template that works for you

My copy deck is a straightforward template refined over a few years. I have added information and then taken it out if I felt it was a distraction. I have also talked to other copywriters about their process and nabbed ideas from them.

Do you want it? You can get a proven copy deck template with a video walk-through and you’re good to go.

It includes copy for each of the introductory sections plus a template for the pages of copy. It’s ready to use straight away or you can tweak it and make it your own.

Buy it now

Belinda

29 Responses

  1. Great tips Belinda! I confess that I’ve just been sending a plain document – my bad – so this has got me all motivated to level up the professionalism and get a copy deck template sorted. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    1. Every thing you send to customers is a chance to show off how professional you are, and make their lives easier. It’s a win-win!

      Thanks for stopping in and letting me know you found it useful 🙂

  2. Great explanation of copy decks, what to include in them and why each aspect is important. Also some great pointers for customisation depending on what you’re creating and/or where you’re at in the review process. I like the idea of reminding the client what they wanted changed and how it’s changed (tracking changes is super handy but also super messy and distracting so it’s great to be able to avoid that!)

    The tips for review process are especially handy – particularly reminding clients that they don’t have to re-write it as that’s what they’re paying us for! Thanks Belinda.

  3. So many great suggestions here. a lot of my copy is provided to clients online and as edits to existing online pages. Still, it’s clear that utilising this approach will really take things up a level. I’d go into more detail but I have to go set up a template. ?

  4. Great article Belinda. I particularly like the list of questions designed to invite more specific feedback. That would save a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.

    1. Excellent Heidi! I’m glad you found it useful.

      I actually pinched that off another copywriter as it’s so helpful. Mostly to give people are sense of what they are reviewing rather than the wibbly-wobbly like it/don’t like it concept.

  5. Hi Belinda,

    Do you use this in Microsoft word? or is there other software you prefer for your copydeck and final draft to your clients?

    Thanks!
    James

    1. Hi James, I do you use Word as it’s one of the most commonly found applications on client’s computers. One of the perks of this is that I can be fairly sure that they’ll see the document in exactly the same way I saved it. Formatting fails are distracting!

  6. Do you use any special version of office word like ‘home and business’ or ‘professional’? I am unsure if on provides a better user experience than the other?

  7. Hey Belinda,

    Any thoughts on a template for internal clients? I’m a pretty new UX content writer–both to the profession and to the large company I work for. Content for our UI was previously delivered by contract writers via…you guessed it, a copy deck! Problem is, everyone here vocally and vehemently despises that document. They flat-out won’t use it.

    So I need something less formal that still communicates copy and tracks approvals/changes, but I’m short on ideas. Since I’m new to this profession, I don’t have much experience to draw from (although I have a long background in business processes/management).

    Just not sure of a good solution. I’d love any input! And great blog, BTW, it an awesome find for a newbie!

    Thanks,
    Kris

    1. One of my simplest copy decks just has a header on each page with: project name, contact name, date and version.
      Then a section for any notes relating to the copy for that page.
      Then the copy itself.
      Then a section with link text and the link destination (to help the implementation).

      (screen shots of this in the blog). This format means that if pages/sections get separated and passed around to different people, it’s not a big drama putting them back together but it doesn’t have heaps of other content to distract the readers from the copy.

      In terms of collecting comments and changes, I use Word for my documents so I use their commenting and tracking but always present a new version as a clean deck, so with all changes accepted. The ‘trick’ is to make people don’t overload the document with a hundred points of view. That’s when a meeting to agree changes can be useful. I know from experience that juggling different reviewers own thoughts is a nightmare.

      So it’s partly down to the document template and partly down to managing the revision process so everyone feels like they’ve had their say 🙂

      *You* need to know the project name and version details (in case you’re managing multiple projects) but you also need to think about what will make *the reviewer’s* job easier. That’s when the revision notes come in. I just had that as an intro page to the copy. The reason it’s important is that many people aren’t used to revising copy and some direction is really important.

      So you might have a cover page with the page name, an intro page summarising the purpose of the copy with some notes to help the revision process then subsequent pages for each page/section of copy.

      I hope that helps a little!

  8. Thanks so much for this – I believe I have lost jobs due to ineffective feedback 🙁 the list you gave above is awesome! Will be using it, as well as your many copy deck tips and tricks to level up my professionalism! Thanks again!

  9. Hi Belinda,

    Great post! Truly helpful. Thank you.

    One question though. How do you present the copy for CTA’s/buttons/snippets/and other microcopies or paragraphs in a way that is easy to understand in the absence of a design?

    I find that too many headings can appear distracting.

    Thanks,
    Sam

    1. You’re right that too many headings can be distracting.

      I help my actual headings stand out by using a different fonts sizes and using H1 and H2 tags (for online copy). Then, when I have to mark out other copy, I use square brackets. Like [Button] or [Highlight window]. With the real headings doing their job of standing out, the smaller tags aren’t as distracting. Sometimes,
      I’ll highlight the tags in colour but I don’t want to distract the client.

      I also explain my markings to clients so my approach is clear in the copy deck notes.

  10. I used this template for my first-ever soup-to-nuts website writing project. I shudder to think how long I would have worked to come up with the actual copy deck part.

    But the upfront text is genius. THAT I would have never figured out myself because I haven’t been at this long enough.

    The template made me look wwaayy more professional than I felt, first-time out!

    1. I use Microsoft Word but I know a lot of copywriters use Google Docs now as it has great abilities to secure access — like controlling how the client can make edits and even lock the document (if the client doesn’t pay).

      Google docs can feel a little techie though for clients who aren’t used to cloud apps so it’s a matter of having the best way for you and your clients.

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