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5 Helpful Art Direction Tips for Copywriters

by | Feb 8, 2023

Credit where credit is due at the outset, man. Bob Merrigan taught me this in my fledgling days as a copywriter. One of my first drafts came back with that sweet, sweet ‘Track Changes’ enabled to show me how I needed to start turning in copy so that editors, designers and others reviewing my work would know where I wanted headlines to go and other art direction basics. He showed me that copywriters can and should be in on the design process.

Thanks, Bob.

Now, I get copy from my team and I’m sending drafts back to them with the same requests he gave me. Here are five art direction tips to save time and make your editors love you.

HEADLINES

It should be obvious, but it’s helpful to indicate where your heads and subheads go. We tend to use ALL CAPS for instruction like this with the actual head/subhead copy directly beneath it.

NOTES TO THE DESIGNER/EDITOR

We’re fans of putting notes within the document (in parentheses or brackets) to clients, designers and proofreaders. I’ve been known to color code these and indicate which color of highlighter is for each respective person touching the work. That level of mania may not be necessary for you — but these notes do save time and prevent many a bewildered email.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ART/INFOGRAPHICS/TYPE TREATMENTS

Your designer will either love you or grit their teeth at this, but I think it prevents a lot of back and forth and misunderstandings. If you’re working on copy and you have a particular vision for imagery, infographics, etc., let it be known! Your client/employer will appreciate those extra five rounds of revisions you saved them…and remember to be sweet to your designer. Word your suggestions in a respectful way and not like a drill sergeant.

INSETS/CALLOUTS/SIDEBARS

Nobody lives in your head but you, sugarplum. When other humans need to use your work to build brochures, flyers and reports, you need to be explicit about this stuff. This is also a good time to mention that these notes can also be questions. Put the layout challenge to your designer, but let them know how you need the copy to stand out or be treated.

SUGGEST YOUR OWN PULL QUOTES OR SOMEONE ELSE WILL

If you’re writing profiles or stories with juicy quotes or powerful observations you know would make for more scannable copy, pull those bits out and indicate them in your copy. Indicate how high up in the copy you prefer them to be.

Typically, your designer isn’t a writer and you’re not a designer. Maybe you are both—I don’t know your life. But if you’re working with a designer, these tips do help save time and prevent a lot of needless revising.

Peaceful copywriting to you.

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