How to Use a Swipe File to Immediately Become a Better Copywriter

By Nate McCallister / a few months ago

If you consider yourself to be a creative person, you may not like what I am about to say. I don't love it either, but the fact of the matter is this: creativity is always based on imitation. 

Quote on originality

In regards to copywriting and marketing, the quality of your work is going to be directly related to the quality of the copywriting that you're exposed to. To ensure that they are able to access inspiration when needed, great copywriters and marketers use something called swipe files. 

What Is a Swipe File

swipe file is a collection of assets or notes that a copywriter could replicate or apply in his own work. Whenever they need inspiration, they open up the collection (usually stored somewhere online like EverNote or Google Drive) and browse through examples of things that worked in the past.  

A swipe file can contain anything. It isn't limited to just text.  You can store videos, podcast intros etc.

You get the idea.

My personal swipe file is loaded with:

  • Great Facebook ads that I found compelling
  • The best email headlines I've ever received
  • Links to YouTube videos that sold things well
  • Images of sales pages I like (with links of course)
  • Classic sales copy examples like the Gary Halbert Letters

I also keep a file for my blogging content. I will store articles that I found valuable or interesting and skim over them at a later time to maybe inspire myself for new content.

Before You Start Using a Swipe File

There is a fine line between learning by referencing the work of others, and blatantly copying methods and expecting the same results as the original copywriter.

It isn't as simple as plugging in your own information and product.

Amy Harrison of Copyblogger said it well, "If you simply use someone else’s style without understanding why they’re doing it that way, you might find that it won’t work at all."

In order to benefit from a swipe file, you will need to understand your target market and their needs. Once you have this understanding, you can leverage the work of others to boost your own sales material.

Also, this is not the same thing as literally stealing the work of someone else. You are borrowing bits and pieces and creating something original.

Steal Like an Artist

Wilson Mizner put it best when he said, "If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from many, it’s research.”

How You Can Start

You can save your swipe file anywhere, but I highly recommend using Evernote.

The reason I love Evernote for my swipe file is because it has features that other apps and programs don't.

It allows you to add tags, upload pictures, annotate documents and create audio clips if you'd like.

The Evernote mobile app makes it easy for me to add anything to my swipe file no matter where I am.

That is one of the important aspects of a swipe file, you store things when you find them. When inspiration strikes, you need to be able to capture it quickly. Evernote facilitates this well.

Other options include Google Drive, Trello, Pocket, Quip, and Scrivener  (although I believe something cloud based/mobile friendly is better).

Inspiration for Your Swipe File

The goal is to save everything that may inspire you and be worth emulating in your own marketing work.

Here's some inspiration for things you can save in your own swipe file.

#1 Email headlines

Save email subject lines that grab your attention. Here is what the clip looks like for my swipe file (I made the annotations for myself to reference later.)

Swipe File

#2 Images

Store images in your swipe file of things that you might use directly in your content with or without some modifications (be sure to properly credit the photographer).

#3 Websites with Great Sales Copy

You can store these in note that includes links with short notes on what the site is and why you saved it. 

#4 Quotes

Save quotes you might want to use in your content or ads. 

#5 Screenshots of design elements you like

Below is something I saved that I liked from an email newsletter I receive occasionally (again, I made the annotations for future reference.)

Elements (1)

#6 Facts AND daTA

Relevant facts and data are great to have handy.

#7 Anything that pushed yOU tO bUY 

If something entices you and leads you to make a purchase or sign up to mailing list, add it to your swipe file.

#8 Videos 

See a great video ad? Save it. 

#9 Paid Ads 

Surely the most common thing copywriters save is great ads. It doesn't have to be in your industry either. 

I especially like to save anything that caught my eye and made me take action. 

FB Examples

Again, don't blatantly steal, but don't be afraid to emulate what is already proven to work.

Additional Swipe File Tips

Here are some additional tips for keeping a great swipe file.

1. Google Spreadsheets Are Great. My most frequently used resource is a huge Google Sheets workbook that has a ton of worksheets I created out of stuff from people I respect. 

Swipe File

2. Try to Maintain Some Order. If you use Evernote, you will want to add tags to each upload. These make it easier to find what you're looking for later. Sub folders are great too. 

3. You Can't Save Too Much. Seriously, more is better when it comes to saving reference materials. You'll be thankful when it's time to find some inspiration. 

4. Learn How to Create and Annotate Screenshots. There are paid and free tools available for this. I use SnagIt these days and I swear by it. 

5. Dedicate Time to Hunting for Things to Swipe. Most of what I find comes naturally but I do dedicate a little time every once in a while to actively seek out new inspirations to save.

Scrolling through sites like Pinterest or Mix.com (formerly StumbleUpon) is a fantastic source of ideas for me. Checking these sites instead reading the morning news or scrolling through Facebook is definitely not a bad option.

6. Jotting Down Summaries/Notes Works. You don't always have to take a screenshot or have a URL of what you want to swipe. Keeping notes (by hand or typed) works. If you use a pocket journal or other physical notebook, just take a picture of the note and upload it to your swipe file. 

Additional Resources

Here are some things that will help your swipe file process. 

Ok, that's all for now! Remember, everything is a remix, make sure you have a lot to remix with!

About the author

Nate McCallister

Nate is the founder and main contributor of EntreResource.com. He is a lifestyle entrepreneur who spends his time building businesses and raising his two kids Sawyer and Brooks with his beautiful wife Emily. His main interests include copywriting, economics and piano.

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