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Copy Writing | Design Principles

Copy Writing

There are many different styles and techniques used in copy writing. One standard creative formula used by many copy writers is AIDA. The AIDA formula states that the copy should attract Attention, spark Interest, create Desire, and motivate Action. The AIDA formula can be used in writing copy for all pieces of your direct mail package.

Before you do any copy writing, be sure you fully understand all aspects of the product or service. Do research to gain complete knowledge of the product or service so that you understand all of its benefits. Otherwise, you will have a hard time writing copy that will convince someone else of the benefits.

Make a list of all the benefits in order of importance. Then you will have all the points that should be stated, starting with the most important. If copy space is a problem, consider leaving the least important ones out of the copy, as long as they are not required for the recipient to understand the other benefits of the product.

Listed below are some tips to keep in mind when writing copy for your direct mail pieces.

  • Choose the proper level of copy according to the vertical positioning you are striving to convey. Don't make it too complex or too simple for the audience you are targeting.
  • State the important aspects of the offer on all pieces of the direct mail package.
  • The information on each piece should reinforce what is stated on the others.
  • The copy must hold the interest of the reader and be of value so that it creates a desire to continue on to learn more about the offer.
  • Use the most important points in the offer to create headlines that will attract the readers attention.
  • Subheadlines can be used to help dramatize the offer and break up copy to make it easier to read.

Beginning Statements

When writing copy for the sales letter, there are several different styles of beginning statements that have worked well in the past. They are listed below with a brief explanation.

Beginning Statement Options

Story Style

The story style beginning statement can be one of the most effective, but can be one of the most difficult to create. It attracts the readers attention by leading into a story about the product or service.
During the last several years, over 100,000 people suffering from cancer have benefited from the use of this herbal supplement. Developed in China during the early years of the Ming dynasty, this herbal . . .

The Offer

This type of beginning statement starts right off with the offer at the beginning of the letter.
Start you trial subscription today and receive a gift copy of Exceptional Financial Strategies for the Years Ahead.


A beginning statement of this type dramatizes one of the most important benefits of the offer.
Participation in our early bird offer will enable you to receive an additional 20% off on already discounted items offered in the next 30 days.


A timing statement emphasizes the appropriate timing of the offer. The appropriate time could be due to current events, seasonal benefits or any other factor affecting the timing of the offer.
At a time of increasing inflation, our offer allows you a chance to obtain a low interest home equity loan.

Complimentary Statement

The complimentary statement suggests that the prospect was one of a selected group of special people.
Because you are one of a select group of local individuals within our private client sector, we have extended our premium offer to you for 30 days.

Start with a Question

Using the right question to start your letter can attract the prospects attention and create a desire to find out what your message has to offer them.
Do you need help getting your family finances under control? Would an additional $250 per month help? How about an additional $500?


Length of Letter

The length of the sales letter should be determined by the amount of important information. A letter is too short only if it does not contain all the important aspects and benefits of the offer. A letter is too long if there is content that is not necessary to provide information needed to understand the benefits of the product or service and the offer being presented to the prospect. It is not the length of the letter that holds the interest of the prospect, it is the content.

Other Techniques

Other techniques used in writing the sales letter are underlining, different color text, indenting, and handwritten notes in the margins. Using a P.S. at the end of the letter also attracts attention of the reader, making this is a good area to restate the important points of your offer. The above techniques work well because they break up the letter, making it easier to read. They are also good ways of emphasizing important points.

Response Piece Copy

When writing the copy for the response piece, be sure you do not overlook the importance of restating the offer and its benefits. Many times the response to the offer is not immediate. The prospect may keep only the response piece, intending to send it in at another time. The rest of the pieces are thrown out. If the benefits of the offer are not restated on the response piece, the prospect may look at it later and decide that he really does not need it.

Whatever piece you are writing copy for, it will be extremely important that it be understandable to anyone that reads it. When you have completed writing your copy, have someone that is not familiar with the project read through the copy and use the response items, such as the coupons and order forms. If they come up with any questions on what they are to do or about the offer, revise your copy so that it clarifies what the respondent needs to do to complete the response..


Design Principles

There are many different aspects to design that need to be taken into consideration when deciding on design styles and techniques. The visual communication is an important part of your project. It will establish the initial impression that the recipient will have of the offer. There are pre-existing associations with elements, such as color, size, type and pictures, that will influence a person on how they perceive the message of the layout. There are other principles that should also be considered to produce an effective layout. Some of the associations and principles are discussed below.



The size of a direct mail piece is not as important as having the strength to attract attention. The size of the elements, such as headlines, copy and illustrations, in relation to the size of the piece will have more of an impact. A small piece with one or two large elements on it will attract more attention than a piece that is much larger and contains the same size elements. The lead element should dominate the rest of the elements.



White space should be used carefully in your design. Using too much white space in the wrong areas will make the elements of the piece loose cohesion. All the pieces will not appear to be united. You should never have more white space between elements than the white space between elements and the border of the layout. If you end up with too much space between elements, there are several ideas you can try. Try enlarging one or two of the most important elements, reset copy in a little larger type so it is easier to read or reduce the space between elements, leaving more white space in the margins. If there is still too much white space, consider reducing the size of the piece, as long as it would still meet necessary requirements for the package.


Another area to be concerned about space is in the text. The space between lines and between characters should be a comfortable amount to make the copy easy to read. Using too much space between characters will make it hard to pick out word and too much space between lines will make them look like separate statements rather than a paragraph. Having characters and lines too close will make all the copy run together, making it difficult to read.


The color can create a mood for your direct mail piece. It can create a soothing or comfortable feeling or it can create a tense or irritating feeling. The colors used should promote the same type of feeling that you are trying to portray in the message. The colors used on all pieces should work together with each other.

When designing on a computer, the colors are RGB additive colors. The additive colors need to be converted to CYMK to produce the correct colors when printed. Keep this in mind when proofing the job. The only way to be sure to get correct color proofs is to use color separated film to produce the proof. For more details, see Color Printing and Proofing.


Different typefaces portray different associations. Some portray modernity, such as sans serif types like Helvetica and Arial. Types like Times and Garamond are associated with books and magazines. Bold face conveys loudness and importance. Light face conveys lightness, quietness and elegance. Italic suggests speed and immediacy. Some samples are shown below.

Each typeface has its own personality and conveys different feelings. When choosing typefaces, be sure they work well together. Different typefaces can be used to convey different messages but should be kept in the same family of faces as much as possible.


The mailing must stand out form other mailings being received. The design of the piece should not take away from the message but should support it and lead the recipient to act on the proposition. Make changes from mailing to mailing, otherwise recipient assumes it is the same offer and ignores the message.


Once you get the readers attention you want to keep it long enough to get them to take action. The message should flow in a logical pattern. Mail pieces should be arranged in the order that your want them to be read. Don't make the less important pieces larger and more contrasting than the most important pieces, otherwise they will distract the reader from the main message. Break text from one column to the next or one page to the next in the middle of the sentence or thought. Breaking a sentence in this manner will influence the reader to continue on with the message.


Be sure the copy is easy to read. Fancy typefaces may look good, but if it cannot be easily read, the message will get lost. Be sure type size is easy to read and that there is proper spacing between characters and lines of type.


Illustrations are a good design feature to use to attract the attention and spark the interest in the recipient. They can be in the form of a photograph or a drawing. Photographs are the best way to display an item in its most realistic form. However, there are times when it is better to use a drawing. A drawing may work better to illustrate particular points or features of a product.

The illustrations should support the message of the whole product or service. They can convey a message of their own so be careful that they are conveying a message that relates to the copy.

Response Piece

The response piece, if part of the direct mail package, should be designed to carry the overall message of the offer. It is likely that it will be the only piece of the mailing that is retained, so all of the important elements of the message must be stated on the response piece. The instructions on it should be clean and easy to follow. If information needs to be filled in, there should be sufficient room allowed for it to be entered.

Graphic Tools

There are software programs available that are used for page layout, photographic manipulation, and illustration design. Some of the common software programs used are QuarkXpress™, Adobe® InDesign™, Adobe® Illustrator® and Adobe® Photoshop®. See more information on each of these tools in Prepress - Software - Graphics and Prepress - Software - Desktop.


Photos are often supplied by the customer. If not, photos can be taken by local photographers. If the use of a professional photographer and professional models are required, the cost of using photos can get very expensive. Sometimes stock photos are a good option. They are readily available, excellent quality and are a lot less expensive than having the photos created professionally. For access to providers of royalty free stock images, see Industry Library - Services.


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