A critical copywriting tool: the swipe file and how to build one

January 12, 2018 | By | Reply More

Do you have a swipe file?

You hopefully do. And if that is the case, rather than read this email, go read this interesting interview with post-punk legend Ian MacKaye instead.

But if you don’t already have a swipe file, or you do have one and you’d like to discover some of my own swipe file secrets…

Well, I guess you should keep reading. (Though that interview is genuinely interesting too.)

The question no one wants to ask

Ok. Let’s start at the beginning:

What is a swipe file?

Well, it’s essentially a file – though it could be folder, a word document, an excel spreadsheet or a dog that you’ve intricately tattooed – that records copy you’ve seen.

I was naturally going to say ‘good’ copy…

But really you should fill your swipe file with good AND bad copy.

Good copy so you can take inspiration for your own projects.

Bad copy so you can make sure you avoid making the same mistakes.

That’s the aim of a swipe file: to inspire new writing, whilst avoiding old tired writing.

And indeed, the key to keeping a good one is not just storing the copy on file for the sake of it…

You need to analyse each piece of copy in your file so you have notes to reference when you consult it.


A quick question…

Would you like to get hold of a simple guide I’ve put together that outlines my own copy training methods?

Filled with specific writing tasks I’ve used to train successful copywriters, I guarantee this will help improve your copywriting – or your money back.

You can get hold of a copy here.


We’ll get to what analysis you should do on each piece of copy in your swipe file in a moment…

First, as many readers have asked me, here are some tips on adding to your swipe file:

1. Sign up for every free newsletter offered by Agora Financial.

When you see an advert more than once, it’s usually a sign that the promotion is working and you should add it to your swipe file to study. Right now, anything involving James Altucher and crypto currencies should be added to your file. It’s great copy.

2. Go on Clickbank and look for the most popular sales promotions with the highest sell rate.

Where looking at Agora Financial will give you a great insight into the financial niche, Clickbank will give you a much wider reach. You can add one of my own promotions on Clickbank here. It works very well.

3. Look around you.

Seriously: any piece of copy you see in the real world – no matter how long or short – take note of it. Take a picture or make a written note, or even clip it out of a magazine. Do NOT sell your swipe file short by only including copy that is relevant to the niche you write for. Anything that effectively (or fails to effectively) persuade someone to take action is worth keeping a note of.

Ok. That should give you enough to go start building your own swipe file or adding to the one you already have.

But as I say, just chucking a good (or bad) piece of copy in there isn’t really enough to turn your swipe file into a seriously powerful copywriting tool.

No. To turbocharge your swipe file and make it a game changer for the way you write copy…

You need to include at least one page of analysis with every piece of copy you include.

This will make your swipe file easy to review and scan when you’re looking for inspiration or you’re trying to remember some clever copy element you saw used in a promotion months ago.

What should you analyse?

Well, I’m glad you asked…

Key elements to include in your analysis

There are many things you can look for in your swipe file copy, but today I’ll start with three basic things you should do with everything that goes in there:

1. Mark out the four Ps – This is a simple thing to do, but will get you automatically thinking about what the copy is there to do. For those who don’t know, the Four Ps are Promise, Picture, Proof, Push. It’s possible to argue that every line of copy in a promotion or advert of any kind should be doing one of these things. Either promising the reader something, picturing it in use, providing proof of why it’s good or pushing the reader to the sale. I would recommend going through every piece of copy you look at and marking either ‘promise, picture, proof or push’ next to the line.

2. Analyse the headline – Headlines (and leads) still mean everything when it comes to the success of a piece of copy. If the headline doesn’t grab someone’s attention, the rest of the copy is for nought. So, it pays to at least spend sometime analysing the headline. Here you should look for the four Us (How URGENT is the headline, how USEFUL is it, how UNIQUE is it and what about the headline is ULTRA-SPECIFIC?). Look for often used elements like scarcity, a critical date, a quote for credibility, an author image. Make a note of it and if you know the copy is working, look to see how you can emulate those elements in your next piece of copy.

3. Breakdown the offer – Another basic thing to do here, but a very important one. Good copy is good copy, but no matter how good the copy may be, if the offer is bad, it’s going screw up all your good work. So, make sure you look at each piece of copy you analyse to see how the writer has dealt with the offer. Here you’re looking for price points, how a discount has been written in, what is offered as a bonus, and how the offer is structured i.e. does the writer start the offer early and then revisit it later, adding more detail each time, or do they just do it as one final deal at the end.

If you consider these three elements and make notes to accompany each piece of copy you put in your swipe file, you’ll soon build up a really useful tool that you can refer to each time you come to write a new piece of copy.

And, of course, whenever you’re stuck for inspiration… rather than having to procrastinate or pace around the room panicking… you can take a quick tour through your swipe file and remind yourself of how someone else dealt with a headline problem and use it as a platform to start writing your own new piece of copy.

As I say, there is much more – and much deeper – analysis you can do when it comes to deconstructing copy that goes into your swipe file, but hopefully that gives you a useful starting point.

Indeed, if you found this useful, let me know and we can revisit the topic another time.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Technicals

About the Author ()

Glenn Fisher was born in Grimsby in 1981. After a number of years working in the local council, he left to become a copywriter and founded AllGoodCopy.com, a free online resource for direct response copywriters and marketers. For over a decade he worked with The Agora, a multi-million pound international financial publisher and in 2018, having helped launch and grow Agora Financial in the UK, he left to write copy on a freelance basis, focus on coaching aspiring copywriters and publish his first book, The Art of the Click. He now lives happily with his partner Ruth and dog Pablo on the east coast of England.

Leave a Reply