The secret to mind-blowing copywriting? A detailed copywriting brief.

Most of my copywriting work is done remotely. I don’t meet my clients or have the luxury of time to hang out and get to know the soul of their business. But that’s exactly what I need to do to create mind-blowing copywriting for their website, blog or brochure.

So how do I dig deep to produce the copywriting gold? A detailed copywriting brief.

Is the copywriting brief really that important?

I know what you’re thinking: A short copywriting brief is better because it means you can get straight into the copywriting, right? WRONG.

I know from experience that a quick copywriting brief is light on details and heavy on generalities. The result is bland copywriting and an intensive revision process.

The copywriting brief will set the course of the project.

It gives me everything I need to create exceptional copywriting. Or not.

The more gaps there are, the more often I have to follow up with endless questions. That’s time consuming (and annoying) for my client and me. The other option is to take a guess, which is a sure-fire way to need a complete rewrite after the first version.

A detailed copywriting brief takes more time but it’s worth it.

More than just time, a detailed creative brief takes more thought and sometimes I have to tease the answers out. That’s where my marketing background can come in handy. Quite often I’m asking questions my clients haven’t really thought about in detail and they get to use their new revelations across the rest of their marketing.

So I thought I would share my copywriting brief with you. These are questions I ask and the reasons I ask them. Trust me. You’ll thank me when you see your copy.

My Copywriting Brief

  • Name of the company and any nicknames it has [internally and externally].
  • Your company tagline or motto.
  • A contact person for the project.

Project-Specific Information

  • Project description: What is it we’re doing here?
  • Scope and inclusions: To make sure I don’t miss anything out.
  • Objectives: What is it you need this piece to achieve?
  • Target audience: Who exactly are you appealing to?
  • Call to action: What do you want your audience to do as a result?
  • Tone and style: What kind of vibe do you want this piece to have?
  • Deadlines: When do you need the final draft done by?
  • Constraints: Are there any constraints such as word count or design?
  • Keywords: Do you know your keywords?

General Business Information

  • Company background & values: How did you get started? What is your company philosophy?
  • Customer pain points: What keeps your clients awake at 2am? What influences their decision to buy?
  • Barriers to purchase: What makes it difficult to decide/buy?
  • Value proposition: What do you do to solve those frustrations? What’s the real value you offer?
  • Competitors and industry bodies: Give me a feel for the market/industry you work in.
  • Alternatives: What are the alternatives to your product or service?
  • Your USP or POD: How are you different? What makes you so special?
  • Testimonials: Do you have any quotes or testimonials from clients?
  • Brand personality: Describe the personality of your business in five words or fewer.
  • Existing marketing material: I can ensure your new copy complements your current marketing.
  • Clubs, industry memberships & awards: How can you validate your expertise?

Project-Specific Information

For each page or business service, detail:

  • Objectives [if they differ from the project objectives].
  • The Features.
  • The Benefits each feature actually provides.
  • Why someone would choose this over another product or service.
  • Call to action [if it differs from the project call to action].

Must Haves: Is there anything you specifically want on the page?

Must Not Haves: Is there anything you really don’t want mentioned?

Time? Yes. Effort? Yes. Great Results? Every time.

So that’s my copywriting brief. It’s detailed and I spend at least an hour walking through the information my client provides. It helps me tease out more detail and nudge them towards important marketing realisations. The best part is that I usually find some copywriting gold in my client’s own words.

So next time you’re getting a grilling from your copywriter, remember that the detail will set a strong path that leads to mind-blowing copywriting.

If you are a copywriter reading this, how does yours compare? Can you see any gaps? Or maybe you’ve picked up some great questions to add to your own brief? Let me know.

The Copy Detective

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A little bit of magic from Belinda (The Copy Detective)
Belinda is a marketing and seo copywriter who confidently walks the line between writing effective copy and creating an engaging brand personality. You don’t have to choose between them! She's teaching what she knows so you can write copy too. Be the first to hear about her next master class.

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  • Anna Butler

    Once again you’re bang-on Belinda. A comprehensive brief not only allows you to produce an excellent end result, but it also helps when putting a more accurate quote together. Which brings me to a question I noticed you didn’t include – what is the budget for the project?

    Obviously some people may feel uncomfortable or out of their depth with such a question, but it’s one I ask so I know whether what they have to spend is in line with the results they want. If not, I can offer suggestions on how this might be achievable.

    I also like to know how their customers find them. This can also reveal a lot about who their audience is.

    But that said, you’ve also got a couple of great questions I’m happy to steal and add to my own brief ;D (Brand personality – I have a similar question, but the way you’ve worded it is brilliant!)

    Thanks again for sharing this one :)

    • Belinda Weaver

      Thanks Anna! It’s a brief that has evolved over many, many client projects and discussions with other copywriters. I’m happy to admit that it’s an ongoing process.

      In response to your question, I don’t actually start the creative brief until the project has been accepted and a deposit paid. If I see that the project scope has changed since my initial proposal, I make sure I discuss the changes and update the proposal accordingly.

      It’s sometimes a tricky balance but I personally prefer to rework the quote rather than spend 2-3 hours on a creative brief that doesn’t get a green light.

      Do you take your brief pre-proposal?

      • Anna Butler

        It’s always interesting to find out how other copywriters manage their projects. 

        After the initial query, I send my brief and conditions of contract for the prospective client to read and complete. If I’m booked up for a couple of weeks in advance, I’ll let them know my anticipated availability and how long the project is likely to take subject to further information from the brief.

        If timing or budget is likely to be an issue, most will let me know before they complete the brief (saving us both time) or if their budget is tight I can take that into account before I draft the proposal.

        By this stage, there’s usually been enough time and effort invested for the quote to be accepted. 

        But, like you, I’m also always looking at ways to improve my systems, so it’s great to be able to have this sort of conversation :)

        • Charles Cuninghame

          Hi Belinda and Anna

          Thought I might add my 2c here…

          I too use a 2-step brief.

          First I use a “quote worksheet” to get just enough info to create a sane quote.

          Once I have the client’s deposit, then I do a detailed brief.

          Do you guys get your clients to write out their answers to your questions?

          I prefer to interview them on the phone. That way I can probe beyond the hype and fluff.

          I usually record the interview and then get it transcribed to use as the raw material for their copy.

          It’s a bit more expensive, but I find I get better answers, quicker, and I stay in the driver’s seat.

          • Belinda Weaver

            Hi Charles and thanks for commenting. My process is quite similar but I tend to that first questionnaire over the phone. I try and understand everything I can about how the copywriting will be used and how it fits in with the larger marketing strategy.

            I like to chat about this (rather than leave it to my client to tell me) because I have been asked for an “article” only to find out that it was actually a sales landing page, which is a completely different focus for the copywriting.

            I have just started getting my clients to fill out the full brief but I am considering going back to doing it as a phone interview. As you pointed out, there can be a lot of hype and fluff and if I’m spending an hour talking it through to get more meat, then I may as well not waste my client’s time getting them to fill it out.

            You’ve got to try different processes through don’t you!

            If I can delve into the technical details a bit more, what do you use to record your phone call?

            Thanks again for leaving your process. I think you’ve actually helped me bed mine down a little more!

          • Charles Cuninghame

            Hi Belinda

            Happy Australia Day!

            I use an Olympus digital recorder to record my interviews – in-person and via telephone.

            I plug in a simple phone mic which sticks to the phone handset with a suction cup (from Dick Smith) to record phone interiews.

            My transcriber also suggested I could do the interview on speakerphone and just put the recorder on my desk near the phone. But I haven’t tried that yet.

            I agree you’ve always gotta be testing ways to improve your copywriting system.

            I’ve tried doing my briefs both ways, but I believe doing an interview gives a better result for me and my clients.

            There’s a good discussion on Men With Pens on this topic:

          • Belinda Weaver

            Thanks Charles!

  • Kelly Exeter

    Thank you so much for this Belinda!! I am a designer who is starting to do a bit more copywriting for clients (do I sound like the actor who is about to release an album?!) so this is going to help me immeasurably! Thanks to Anna for the share as well – impeccable timing!

    • Belinda Weaver

      My pleasure Kelly. I am so glad it was useful for you!

  • Anonymous

    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon
    your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your
    blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed

  • Kay Ross

    Great list, Belinda! Here’s my list of questions I always ask prospective clients: “Before a Freelance Writer/Editor Can Give You a Quote…”

    • Belinda Weaver

      Thanks Kay and thanks for sharing your own questions!

  • Tracey Baker

    Hi Belinda this is a really cool post and I’ve enjoyed reading your ideas, thoughts and everyone’s comments. Thought I’d share my process. To understand or help to understand three things from the clients perspective I focus on – 1) identifying the real actual objective, 2) being clear about who is the real target audience/customer and 3) in one or maybe two words what the real positioning criteria is. I find if I can nail these three elements then there is a good chance of writing something the client will truly be able to benefit from. It’s not easy but it’s sometimes really worth the effort to help people gain a new perspective with their business objectives through the magic of clean clear wonderful words.

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  • Simone

    Hi Belinda,

    I currently a student in design with majors in advertising and graphic design, so this has been quite helpful! I’m finding it hard after recieving a brief for an assessment to really understand how to write out my creative strategy & conceptual piece.

    • Belinda Weaver

      I’m glad you found it useful Simone. Thanks for stopping in! :)

      • Simone

        :) Any tips for an up-and-coming copywriter? haha

        • Belinda Weaver

          Read lots, write lots, network lots… and don’t stop ;)

          • Simone

            Awesome, thank you :)

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