This article has been excerpted from Kick-Ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps by Susan Gunelius, available from Entrepreneur Press .

The purpose of the copywriting outline is to put all your thoughts about your product in one place. I created the copywriting outline to help small- and medium-size business owners and beginner copywriters complete the necessary background work before copy writing can begin in a methodical, linear way. The copywriting outline provides a single tool where you record all the details about your product or service that you will need to produce compelling copy again and again. It's also an evolving instrument that you add to as your product or business changes and grows.

Your copywriting outline acts as a single source of information about your product or service, and each step in the copywriting outline represents an area you need to research and fully understand before you can begin crafting marketing messages. Remember, copywriting is about creating perceived needs among a specific audience. For example, how can you attempt to create perceived needs if you don't first understand the benefits of your product, who your audience is and where you will communicate with them? The steps you complete before you begin writing copy are crucial to the ultimate success of your marketing campaign. If you skip these beginning steps, your advertising message will lose some of its power when you write your copy.

If you have a broad product line or diverse clientele, you might want to create a separate copywriting outline for each product or customer group. The reason for this is simple. Each product in your product line provides different benefits and differentiators and each customer group (called "marketing segments" in official marketing terminology) within your current and prospective end-user audience has different needs and desires. Don't fall into the trap of trying to take shortcuts with your copywriting research. If there are fundamental differences between your products and the audiences for them, take the time up-front to develop a comprehensive copywriting outline for each product and each audience. The work you do now will pay off ten-fold in the future by saving you time and money when you sit down to write the most compelling copy possible that drives results and boosts profits.

Doing the Work Now Saves Time and Money Later
Each time you want to create an advertising or promotional campaign you can refer to your copywriting outline to cull the best attributes and benefits related to your product for that particular program. Then, simply organize the points from your copywriting outline, add in some action words and the first draft of the copy for your ad is done. It truly can be that simple. If you take the time upfront to create a detailed copywriting outline, you'll reap the rewards in the long term.

Remember, the copywriting outline is a working document. It's never complete and it's always changing. If you don't update it, the outline will lose its usefulness.

The Elements of Copy
Before you begin completing your copywriting outline, it's important to understand the elements of copy. Copywriting is more than just writing words. There are different pieces that go into creating the copy for each advertisement or marketing piece. While every element is not always used in every ad or marketing piece, the following is an overview of some of the most important elements of copywriting:

  • Headline: The headline is intended to grab your audience's attention and convince them to look at your ad further. The key to writing an effective headline is to get to the point.
  • Subhead: The subhead expounds on the headline. While the headline is meant to catch your audience's attention, the subhead gives them a bit more information and works with the headline to tease your audience to read more or listen further.
  • Key selling points: The key selling points are the elements of your copy that communicate the primary benefits or differentiators of your product or service. This is where you provide details that persuade customers to believe they need your product or service.
  • Special offer: A special offer is included if your ad or marketing piece is intended to communicate a sale, discount or other promotion.
  • Call to action with contact information: The call to action is used to invoke a sense of urgency to the ad and give the audience clear directions on how to respond to the ad. This is where you tell the audience what you want them to do.
  • Tracking mechanism : You might want to include a method to track the results of your ad through a special code, website address or phone number to determine if the ad meets your return on investment objectives.
  • Additional information: Sometimes you'll need to provide additional information about your product or service to further clarify your message. This is common with highly complex product advertisements such as technical or medical equipment. Depending on the product or service being advertised, you'll need to determine the importance of the additional information to decide what priority to give it in your copy.
  • Disclaimers: You need to include disclaimers to protect yourself and your business against potential lawsuits or negative publicity.

Regardless of the type of marketing piece you're writing, your copy should focus on these elements. Whether you're creating a radio ad or an in-depth brochure, your marketing copy should be structured similarly in terms of catching the attention of your audience, teasing them to look or listen further, providing your key selling points, describing your offers and telling them how to respond.

Take some time to analyze ads in magazines or brochures that were most likely written by professional copywriters and try to find the copywriting elements used in each piece. You'll undoubtedly find a pattern showing that the same elements are typically used to communicate marketing messages through effective copywriting.