Writing is not always a solo act. When you work in the sphere of digital marketing, writers often work closely with designers to bring websites, pamphlets, ebooks and graphics to life.
The most skilled writers within digital marketing must enter every project with design in mind. That means carefully structuring your copy, considering how text will appear beside images and understanding the larger goals of the finished project.
During my career as a freelance copywriter, I’ve received many compliments from designers about how easy my copy is to work with. Often designers are used to seeing walls of text and their job is to translate that text into a structure that looks like a normal website or ebook. If you can fill in a few design gaps as you write, you’ll impress your clients — and get designers to absolutely love working with you because you make their job easier.
In this article, I’ll break down a handful of simple design tricks you can do within Google Docs to structure your copy to impress. Let’s dive in.
Take a step back
Before we dive into the exact tactics, let’s name one of the most common problems starting writers face when learning to write for business.
With the exception of writing blog posts, most things you’ll write for businesses shouldn’t look like a long wall of text by the time you’re done. Before you put your fingers on the keyboard, always look at examples of finished copywriting projects. Pay careful attention to structure. How you structure your copy impacts how you write, so it’s important to understand the general structure you’re aiming for before you get started.
A few examples
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’ve been assigned a website copywriting project. Before you put a single word on the page, go click around your favorite websites. How do they use words on the page?
Likely, your favorite websites aren’t a wall of text. They’re structured with clear, short headlines and minimal body copy.
Consider the simplicity of a website like Intercom.
Your goal as a writer should be to get your copy as close to an appearance of the finished website as possible. That means finding ways to showcase images. It means distinguishing headings from body copy using different size fonts. Could you make your calls to action truly look like buttons — even in Google Docs?
Or perhaps your client has asked you to write an ebook. Ask: How do the most creative, well-designed ebooks appear as a finished project?
Before jumping into the writing, you might scroll several ebooks from HubSpot for inspiration.
Notice that HubSpot’s content isn’t structured as a wall of text with long paragraphs in a single column. The ebook is easy to scroll. It’s visual and colorful. The copy is compartmentalized into small blocks of text.
You can follow that example… and even structure the ebook in Google Docs so that it looks similar to that finished product before the designer sees it.
Writing copy for websites or ebooks means first taking a step back. Decide in your mind that you will write copy in such a way that the designer understands your aesthetic choices the moment they open your Google Doc.
How to structure your copy in Google Docs
You’re probably already using several Google docs hacks for completing freelance writing assignments —from Google docs add-ons to tracking changes in Google docs — now you can make designers fall in love with your work by following these tips for structuring your copy in Google Docs.
Make it clear where images belong
Google Docs makes it easy to add images. The problem is, how you structure those images beside your copy isn’t always ideal. Images can bump your text all over the place, making it hard to show designers what structure you’re going for. Fortunately, there’s a simple workaround that gives you more control over images.
Before dropping any images into my doc, I’ll add a Table and then adjust the dimensions of that table to fit the proportions I’m going for.
Hover your mouse over Insert > Table > Select the number of boxes you need. (I usually just need two: one side of the table is for copy, the other for my image.)
Once you select the box, you can adjust the click and drag the sides of the table to change its dimensions. Then just add your copy in one box and your image in the other.
Here’s an example from one of my recent ebook projects. The Before image is how I structured the text in Google Docs. The After image shows what my copy looked like once the designers had a chance to work their magic.
Generate buttons and organize website copy
The Table feature is also powerful for organizing copy for a website. Since the table parameters can be adjusted up, down, left and right, you can use the Table to place copy anywhere on the page. This makes it easy to add elements like buttons or small images without anything pushing your copy out of the way.
Side note: In the example above, my wife included a screenshot from a website that inspired our copywriting and design choices. That’s why there’s a screenshot above the copy. Adding screenshots gives the designers even more insight into how you visualize your copy.
The Table tool in Google Docs will be your best friend. You can also use it to organize copy neatly into columns or place graphics or emojis beside or above text.
And if you want to get rid of the black border, simply: right click the table > Table Properties > Change the border color from black to white. The lines disappear but you still maintain the structure.
Use the Drawing feature
Another helpful tool in Google Docs is the Drawing feature.
Don’t worry, the designer and your client won’t expect you to draft pictures or graphics for them. I use this tool to quickly create photo or graphic placeholders when I really want to convey how a particular space on the page should be used, even when I don’t have all the images I need.
You can access the Drawing tool by clicking: Insert > Drawing > New
With the Drawing tool, you can create bare-bones visuals as placeholders for future designs. I usually just go with a plain X. When seen within the context of my writing, most designers will quickly understand that I expect some image or graphic to fill the space containing my drawing.
In the example below, the designer will easily see that each X should be a headshot that lives above each professional bio.
Show your spacing
Finished websites and ebooks don’t look like a Google Docs. For one thing, the spacing is completely different. As a writer, you need ways to communicate with designers about how large or small a section of copy is meant to be.
For this, I rely on one simple tool.
If I need to show a section is ending, I usually use Google Docs’ horizontal line. You can find it by clicking: Insert > Horizontal line.
A thin black line will appear and divide the page top from bottom. This helps you distinguish when one section ends and the next begins.
My most common use case for this line is to define everything that should be included above the fold on a website. Above the fold is defined as everything a website visitor sees on a website before they begin scrolling.
When writing website copy, everything written above the horizontal line is meant to appear above the fold.
Additional structuring tools and design techniques
There are dozens of additional ways to use Google Docs to convey your design intentions. Not all of them require their own section. Here is a quick list of some additional tools I regularly use to structure my writing.
- Bullets & numbering (Format > Bullets & numbering)
- Columns (Format > Columns)
- Charts (Insert > Charts)
- Use different font sizes to distinguish chapters and subchapters, headings and subheads.
- Editable outline (View > Show document outline)
- This generates an automatic Table of Contents based on your headings.
- Header / footer
- When writing white papers, I often insert my client’s logo into the header so that it automatically shows up on every page.
- Google fonts
- If I know what font my client will use on their website for headings and body copy, I’ll often write using that font or a similar one. Google offers hundreds of free fonts that you can add to Google Docs.
Make designers fall in love with your work
Designers experience many of the same headaches as writers. Their skills are chronically undervalued. Every new assignment is expected to be done yesterday. Designers often must defend their rates and carefully manage scope.
If you can make their life easier by incorporating simple design elements into your copy, designers will remember your work forever. Because copywriters and content writers seldom think twice about structure and design. Designers must interpret a writer’s structure like it’s a new language. When you do the translating for them, you quickly rise to the top of their “favorite writers” list.
Remember: designers and writers often work hand in hand. When designers receive exciting new projects, you want to be the writer they recommend for that next gig. By using good design practices in your writing, you can become the #1 referral of multiple skilled designers.
Differentiate yourself from most of your competition by writing for design. It’s just one more way to add value to every project — and differentiate yourself from most other writers.