Seeing how your copy looks

I write visually, and almost always have done.

If someone asks me to rewrite their website, I take a screenshot of the site, import it into an editorial layout program, block out the existing content, approximate the font, size, leading and measure being applied by the stylesheet, and then begin writing.


Because it helps me get the copy spot on if I can ‘see’ it in the actual context in which it will be used.

I do this whether I’m writing a site, a sales letter, or a print item like a brochure. (In truth, if I’m doing a site from scratch, I’ll often draft the copy straight into an HTML editor in an approximation of how I think the page might end up.)

Now this works for me (and for my clients, to whom I generally provide the ‘copy visual’ as we call it, as a part of my deliverable, along with the .doc copysheet which is the actual deliverable as per my Terms and Conditions).

But am I alone in doing this? Does everyone else just write in Word, or similar, without needing to ‘feel’ the copy in situ, or are there lots of other ‘visual’ writers out there?


4 Responses to “Seeing how your copy looks”

  1. will atkinson

    Well…yes and no. I was told by a great press writer (John Spinks) that he wrote his copy in longhand and in columns according to the width allowed by the art director. He said it was a trick he learned from an american copywriter who worked on VW.
    On the no side I find more and more designers (web or otherwise) ask for the copy before they design, so they can design around the copy.
    Personally I prefer ‘seeing’ because it helps me think about the whole thing as a whole – kind of holistic I guess.
    reading this back it could be a contender for pseuds corner. I suppose the real answer is does anybody care any more? (I know I do.)

  2. John McGarvey

    It’s a definite ‘sort of’ here.
    If I’m writing for a new site, I like to get hold of page mockups so I can approximate how long each block of copy needs to be.
    Particularly where titles are concerned, it’s important to think about line wrapping to keep everything neat. Ok, so it’s near-impossible to get it perfect in all browser / font size combinations, but you can get pretty close. And believe me, designers will thank you for understanding the importance things like this can make to a site’s overall look and feel.
    Having said all that, I’ve encountered the same situation as Will: people who want the copy first. This generally happens because they haven’t started designing yet but they want to get going quickly, or because they don’t fully understand the process of building a website.
    Whether a copy first approach is practical seems to depend on the nature of the site, but I’d always prefer to work to at least a rough design. It makes things easier for the writer, and probably cheaper for the client.

  3. Laurence Blume

    Your comment of course raises the question of who is doing the information split/architecture. A good web dev company/client may well have gone through a proper site definition process to decide what information/features will be presented and how these will be deployed, and so the writer really will be required only to write the content to that map.
    However, there are many, many web companies who have no true site architects, and just as many clients who have so little experience that the idea that someone has to plan the site before it can be built is lost on them.
    I am always happy to ‘write last’ on any job where the site has been properly scoped by client and developer.
    But I will always seek to take responsibility for information architecture as part of the writing task, where it’s apparent that the job will otherwise fall to a reluctant database engineer or a ‘busking it’ web company account handler.

  4. Sky

    As an aspiring copywriter, this question came to mind too.
    I remember discussing this with some of my lecturers, asking about how I should go about creating a portfolio and whether or not a design layout would be helpful.
    Some people have told me to not bother with the design, just words, because that’s all the copywriter does, but at the same time I feel like, if I can see what the spread will turn out like (so I’m not talking just websites) then I can figure out what sort of words may be necessary here and there to capture what is needed, or just how it may turn out in the end.
    This post has re-sparked my curiosity and questions once more.