Basic Copywriting Terms

This simple glossary, arranged alphabetically, defines basic copywriting terms in direct mail and nonprofit fundraising. Use it to help you understand niche lingo … and even use it like a pro.

If you know of additional terms not recorded here, post them in the “Comments” section below. We’ll help define them for you. Thanks!


Above the Fold
Part of a web page or email message that is viewed without scrolling.  Originally a newspaper term, “above the fold” refers to text at the top of the page, literally above the paper’s fold.

Appeal
A letter or piece of copy that asks for a gift.

B2B Copywriting
“Business-to-Business” copywriting, in which one business sells a product or service to another business rather than directly to consumers.

B2C Copywriting
“Business-to-Consumer” copywriting, in which a business sells products and services directly to the consumer.

Bangtail
A detachable slip of paper set between the back of an envelope and its adhesive flap, usually featuring special marketing information or an order form.

The bangtail’s perforated edge allows the reader to remove it easily.  Since the envelope cannot be sealed without removing the bangtail, its copy is especially significant.

Benefits
The advantages of a product or service – how its features are useful, affordable, interesting, or productive to the reader.

Body Copy
Text following the headline that outlines the product, the problem it solves, its features and benefits, testimonials, the offer, and guarantee, all aimed at persuading the reader to take action.

Brand, branding
The combination of design and ideas which forms a product’s image.

BRC
Business Reply Card – a prepaid, preaddressed postcard the prospect returns in response to a direct mail campaign.

BRE
Business Reply Envelope – a prepaid, preaddressed envelope that can hold a response form and check.

Bullet points
Items on a list, introduced by typographical symbol.

Buckslip
Small direct mail package insert which emphasizes certain information about the product, service, or organization.

Call out, pull out
A short piece of copy that is “pulled out” from the main body of the text, often within a box or with different type, to stand apart from the main body of text and draw attention to a special point, such as a sale, free shipping, or an important feature.

Call to action
Part of the written message that tells your reader what you want them to do – the next step you want him to take.  The call to action urges the prospect to take a specific action in exchange for a specific offer.

Carrier
Outer envelope used in a direct mail package. It “carries” the letter, lift note, response device, BRE, and any other package elements.

Control
A piece of copywriting which produces the best results when used in repeatedly in successive promotions. By knowing the performance of a control, a company can test other copy to see if it can “beat the control” and achieve better results.

Conversion rate
The percentage of readers who took the action outlined in the copy. By knowing the conversion rate of a promotion you can determine how many readers needed to meet your goal.

Copy
Any piece of copywriting.

Drop date
Date on which a direct mail promotion is scheduled to enter the postal system – when it is "dropped" in the mail.

Features
Raw facts, statistics, and information about your product or service.

Gift array
A list of possible donation amounts, listed on a response device, to prompt partners as they respond to a fundraising appeal.

Guarantee
The promise you make to a reader in case he changes his mind about buying your product or service.

Headline
The copy at the top of a direct mail letter, webpage, email campaign, or other piece of copywriting, designed to grab the reader’s attention and encourage him to keep reading. This copy or phrase at the top of a piece draws in the reader and entices him to read further. Good headlines emphasize a benefit.

Hook
The opening sentence (or paragraph) of a communications piece, designed to grab the reader and get her to keep reading. A summary sentence, powerful story, fascinating fact, or stirring quote are some of the most reliable hooks. (More about writing a hook.)

Indicia
Printed free-postage marks on BRCs and BREs.

Johnson Box
The headline in a direct mail letter or online appeal set within a rectangular box.

Landing page
A long, scrolling sales letter on the internet, ending with a guarantee and order button.

Lift note
An additional message that complements the main letter or brochure, usually printed on a smaller piece of paper than the letter.
 
Offer
The proposition made to a prospect or customer, including price, quantity, membership length, discounts, free gifts, and guarantees. In fundraising pieces, the offer is referred to as “The Ask.”

Package
A direct mail promotion piece, referring to an envelope and its contents.

P.S. (Postcript)
A bit of copy added after the letter signature. The P.S. is one of the most-read portions of any direct mail letter or email campaign. For that reason, a P.S. is an excellent place to restate your offer, add urgency, and even list an additional benefit of your produce or service.

Response Device, Reply Device
The part of a direct mail piece or ad which is returned to the sender, such as an order form, reply card, or coupon, on which the reader places an order or gives a gift.

Self-mailer
A piece of direct mail without an envelope, as in a folded mailer, booklet, catalog, or postcard.

Sidebar
An extra piece of copy set apart from the main body of an article or letter, often in a box or a separate column. A sidebar adds supplemental material to the main piece, such as testimonials, features and benefits, or a list of resources. Most sidebars have their own headline.

Subhead
Miniature headline used to break up long text. Subheads read in succession can create a short outline for your piece, communicating your major points at a glance.

Tag line
A brief, catchy phrase that summarizes a brand and used to identify it on a variety of communications.

Target market, target audience, target reader
The collective profile of your potential customer or donor

Teaser
Short snippet of copy on the outer envelope. The teaser’s job is to get the reader to open the envelope.

Testimonial
A quote from a client, volunteer, donor, or community partner that explains how he benefited from your work and your cause. Testimonials can be in text, audio, video, or even presented as short case studies.

USP
Unique Selling Proposition: the traits or benefits that distinguish an organization from its competitors.


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BASIC COPYWRITING

Learn from the masters in the acclaimed course, Six-Figure Copywriting. If you can write a simple letter to a friend, you can write promotions that pull and make a living working for yourself as a copywriter. Learn more.