Design terminology: Copywriting

Summary of common copywriting terminology used when editing the English language:


This form of branding aims to inform the target audience of a product or service, but which is not intended to gain direct sales. It relies on customer retention of the brand name and/or styling.

Block quote

A block quote is a written quotation surrounded by quotation marks, which is often 100 words or more which are formatted different to surrounding body copy. This formatting might be indentation, different font size and/or colour. Also known as an extract.


A key marketing strategy is to highlight what the product or service does for the customer.

Body copy

The main copy in an article or document, as distinct to headings and captions. Also known a body.


The target market’s impression and subsequent feelings, caused by experiences of and/or about a company’s service or product.


A brief (written or verbal) defines the objectives, strategy, target audience, priorities, deadlines, key deliverables and any specs for a proposed item, which is being developed to market a product or service.

Call out

A selection of copy which is graphically or typographically highlighted to contrast against the body text in order to draw attention to special information. Methods might include a different font, different colour, different layout or incorporating copy in a box.

Call to action

Specific offer to a prospect which encourages them to take specific and direct action (e.g. phone us, visit our website, visit our showroom, complete this form, order here).


A citation is a reference to the original source of an idea. A citation is denoted by a superscript number or a symbol within the body copy, and the detail of the original source (author’s surname, publication name and page) is typically cited in a footnote.

In scientific or detailed documents, sometimes full detail of the source will appear in the bibliography (appendix).


Adjusting copy and/or formatting to make copy fit the designated space.

  • Proactive copyfitting involves the designer estimating the amount of copy which can fit in a prescribed area based on the format and design. The author or copywriter can then write copy which fits.
  • Reactive copyfitting by the author, editor or copywriter involves rewriting the copy to fit.
  • Reactive copyfitting by the designer involves modification of formatting such as:
    • Adjusting the font (font size, font style).
    • Adjusting white space (letter spacing, word spacing and line spacing).
    • Adjusting the layout.


Written words. Also known as text.


Copywriting is the skill of writing copy for written or verbal use, with the intention of marketing a business, person, product or idea. The goal of copywriting is to persuade the reader/listener/viewer to do something (e.g. buy, visit a showroom, visit a website or change their opinion).

Cross reference

Referencing topics previously mentioned. Common abbreviation is x-ref.


The finished product of a campaign which needs to be delivered (e.g. advertisement, press release, direct mail, TV or radio commercial, emarketing, website or Blog).

Direct marketing

Direct marketing is focused around a call to action, and can be printed or electronic format. Modern versions tend to include personalisation, including the recipient’s name and customised text or graphics. Direct mail is a subset of direct marketing. Sometimes abbreviated to DM. Also known as direct response marketing.

Direct mail

A direct marketing technique where promotional material is delivered direct to named individuals (to their home or business) in order to generate leads or direct sales.

Dummy text

Non-sensical Latin copy “lorem ipsum…” is used for positional purposes (to demonstrate the page layout visually). It is commonly used until the real copy is available, but can also be used to help the viewer concentrate on the layout and design, rather than the copy content. Also known as filler text, Greek or placeholder text.


Typically a one or two sentence summary at the end of an article or chapter. Also known as running foot.

Full caps

Copy written in capital letters. Also known as uppercase or full caps.


The space between facing pages. Also known as inner margin.

Hard copy

Copy printed on paper.


Large heading at the start of a section, page or chapter, which should succinctly capture attention. Also known as title, head or headline.


Short introduction following a title and preceding the body copy.


Similar to a table of contents, except usually at the end of a book, and in alphabetical order.


A definition which explains an illustration, photo or diagram. Also known as a caption.


Copy written in small letters. Also known as minuscule.

Mark up

Instructions relating to copy or design, written directly on copy or layouts.

Numbered list

List of items (more than one item) with consecutive numerals as a prefix. Also known as an ordered list. Sometimes the numeral is followed by a fullstop or a bracket.


The start of a paragraph which has been separated from the end of a paragraph by a page break.


Printed or electronic layout of a document, intended for the client or editor to check and either approve or provide further instructions. Also known as dummy or mockup.


Checking copy for grammatical, punctuation, spelling, typographical, context and flow. May also be done with the intention of assisting layout. Also known as editing.

Reversed copy

Copy in which contrasts against the background (colour box, illustration or photograph). The most common is white copy on a black background. Also known as knock-out.


An initial or precursory layout, not intended to be complete. Also known as draft.


Horizontal line on a page, used to separate copy or graphical elements.

Sentence case

The initial letter of a sentence, title or caption is capitalised, and the remaining letters are lowercase.

Serial comma

Comma separating a list or series of items.


A short section (typically physically separate from the main copy) which complements the current story. Sometimes used to link to a related article, or to feature testimonials or case studies.


Typographical specifications relate to fonts, font size, leading and letter spacing. Layout specifications relate to spacing, margins, alignment and flow. Media specifications might include ad size, bleed, colours and preferred file formats. Abbreviation for the word specifications.


Copy marked for amendment or deletion should be restored back to it’s original state.


Small heading, typically smaller and used after the main heading, and before body copy. Typically used to explain or expand upon the heading. Also known as subheading.

Table of contents

A list of document’s sections in the order they appear (typically for documents 8 pages or longer). Sections might include chapter titles, headings and subheadings. Also known as Contents or abbreviated to TOC.

Tag line

A brief phrase on marketing material which summarises the brand’s promise or unique selling proposition. Tag lines are typically repeated throughout marketing material to establish or reinforce awareness. A tagline is often used at the end of radio or tv ads, and is often positioned in relation to the logo on printed or onscreen material. Also known as a slogan or strapline.

Target audience

A well-defined target market is critical to effective marketing. It allows you to tailor copy and design to target specific people, and this should in turn make marketing more efficient and effective. Also known as target market or niche market.

A clearly defined target audience should include a combination of: age, location, gender, income, education, marital status, occupation and ethnic background. It’s also ideal to include more personal characteristics
such as attitude, interests, hobbies, lifestyle, behaviour and values.

You can have multiple target audiences, and in this manner you can promote to these separate target audiences, based on their interests.

It should also be noted that these target audiences may intentionally not include some current customers.


Brief copy often used on direct mail to get the recipient to continue reading (prior to the remainder of the promo).

Title case

Copy written with the first letter of each word in capital letters. Sometimes excludes prepositions, conjunctions and articles.


A mistake made when typing, including spelling errors, omission and transposition. Common abbreviation for a typographical error.

Unordered list

List of items (more than one item) with a bullet (circular dot), square or other graphic as a prefix. Also known as unnumbered list or bullet points.


Copy written in capital letters. Sometimes abbreviated to UC. Also known as uppercase, caps or full caps.

Unique selling proposition (USP)

This competitive strategy considers the relative positioning and strategies of competitors. A unique positive feature which distinguishes a product from its competitors (as distinct from selling based on lowest price or geographic location). Also known as competitive advantage.


A end of a paragraph which has been separated from the start of a paragraph by a page break.