Picture this: you’re writing a blog post and need examples to back-up your points. You head to Google and find the same tired and dull examples that everyone ranking on page one uses.
What do you do now?
If you use those examples, you have zero differentiation from the other posts your reader could choose from. Your content ends up being a regurgitation of everything already ranking for any given phrase.
A personal swipe file solves that problem. It’s a secret library of snippets, examples, and data points that become your go-to place for writing any content.
(AKA, the best way to build your freelance writing skills and write better, unique content.)
In this guide, we’ll share:
- What a swipe file is
- Why freelance writers need one
- 15 swipe file examples
- How to create a copywriting swipe file
- How to use your new swipe file
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What is a swipe file?
A swipe file is a personal library of writing snippets. Writers can create their own swipe file to bookmark copywriting examples, graphics, and data points.
However, we do have a word of warning about what a swipe file isn’t.
A copywriting swipe file isn’t a source of clippings to plagiarize. Your snippet library should be a source of inspiration, a place for you to go when you want to see real-life examples of writing you can build on.
Why do writers need a swipe file?
Marketers have been using swipe files for in-house marketing strategies for years. They bookmark content marketing examples, social media ideas, and email marketing campaigns from other brands.
However, I’m a huge believer that freelancers need one, too–especially freelance writers.
There are 897,000 people with the words “freelance writer” on their LinkedIn profile. Each of them usually has the same process when writing a piece of content:
- Go to Google
- See the content other people are sharing
- Use the same data points, examples, and structure in their content
The only problem with that? Things get boring. Readers don’t want to see the same examples time and time again.
Having your own swipe file means you have a personal library of content. You build up a library of data points, sentence structures, and examples that you can’t find on Google.
It also helps to ease writers’ block too. Let’s say you’re writing a sales page and you’re unsure which headline to create. If you’ve bookmarked 10 great examples you’ve come across before, your own headline swipe file gives you a headstart. You already know which formulas have worked on you. Chances are, they’ll work on your target audience, too.
Plus, keeping a copywriting swipe file means you actually learn from the things you read. Not only does it make you feel less guilty for doing passive research, but you build your copywriting skills by understanding which things pique your interest (and why.) You begin to understand the psychology behind writing.
15 swipe file examples
Let’s take a look at what different types of writers might include in their swipe file.
A freelance blogger, who spends most of their time writing (and reading!) long-form content, could save the following things to their own swipe file:
- Title tag examples
- Survey data
- Sentence structure examples
- Examples of fast/slow rates of revelation
On the other hand, sales copywriters might have more sales-orientated examples in their swipe file. That could include:
- Facebook ad copy
- Landing page headline formulas
- Homepage layouts
- Call to action pop-ups
- Examples of copywriting formulas
Similarly, an email copywriter would have their take. Their email swipe file can be a home to excellent examples of:
- Email subject lines
- Use of images, GIFs, or videos
- Examples of persuasion
- Use of social proof
- Rhetorical questions
How to create a swipe file for your writing work
Ready to make your own copywriting swipe file? Follow these three steps to start building up your library of examples.
1. Choose a tool of choice
There are a variety of tools you can use to build a swipe file.
My personal favorite is a wiki-style tool like Pocket, Evernote, or Notion. I use Notion for my copywriting swipe file because it’s free.
I can also bookmark snippets directly from my browser using this Chrome plugin. So, if I’m browsing the internet and I find something I want to save, I just click the icon and save it directly to my swipe file.
Notion also allows you to tag the different examples you upload to your swipe file. You can filter by tag when looking for specific snippets:
If you don’t want to invest in a new tool, you could also use a social media site like Pinterest.
Similar to Notion, it has a browser plugin to save copywriting examples directly from your browser. (Just be aware that you’ll need to set your board to “secret” so nobody can use your personal library.)
Google Sheets is another good option if you want to build a simple swipe file. You can have a spreadsheet broken down into different categories using tabs.
However, it’s not very flexible; you have to manually scan through links to find the examples you’ve bookmarked. You may struggle to add visual snippets (like screenshots). It’s also harder to save stuff on the go.
The final option is good ol’ fashioned email. Grab the link (or screenshot) of the example you want to save and send it to yourself. Create a new Gmail folder called “Swipe File” and tag all of your example-related emails with that label.
Again, the downside to building an email-based swipe file is that it’s not flexible: you might find it difficult to find specific examples.
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2. Start swiping
Once you’ve got your copywriting swipe file set up, it’s time to start swiping.
You can actively go out and find examples to fill your swipe file with. Some great resources for writers include:
- Swipe Files: for teardowns on marketing examples (and why they’re good)
- Really Good Emails: for email examples
- Fantastic Texts: for SMS marketing examples
- Dribbble: for graphics and landing pages
However, building a swipe file is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s best to build up your library over time with the best examples–not those you first come across.
So, bookmark anything you find interesting during your time browsing the internet. It could be:
- A headline of a sales page that influenced you to buy something
- A conclusion to a blog post that you enjoyed reading
- A Twitter thread that breaks down how a company did something
- An example of a technique you write about often
- A survey or data point about your niche/industry that you might want to reference in future
Top tip: Don’t just save examples of things you did like. Bookmark the things you didn’t like, too, so you can avoid them in your writing.
3. Think about why it caught your interest
Saving examples to your copywriting swipe file is a great place to start.
But whenever you’re saving something, think about why it caught your attention in the first place. Jot that down in a few bullet points with the snippet itself. For example:
- “This headline made me buy the product.”
- “This was a unique intro I’ve not seen before. It got me excited to read a 3,000-word blog post.”
- “I’ve never heard of this brand before but their story is inspiring.”
Granted, this takes a bit of extra time when building your own swipe file. But, it helps you understand why you’ve saved the examples you have. That’s the best way to understand the psychology behind good writing–especially if you’re writing sales copy.
How do I organize a swipe file?
The key to creating a swipe file is to have a personal library of examples you can scan through when writing a new piece of content.
What good is it if you’re unable to find the things you need?
Make sure you have a way to organize the bookmarks, examples, and data points you’re bookmarking. And, as you’re adding to your swipe file, stick to the same organizational structure. It stops things from getting lost.
I do this in my swipe file by creating new Notion sections for each theme. For example, I have different sections for the niches I write about:
- Content marketing
I also tag the type of copy or use case for each example I’m saving. In this list of data points, for example, you’ll see that I can filter my table by “ecommerce” to find the statistics I’m looking for immediately:
How to use your new copywriting swipe file
Congratulations! You’ve got your copywriting swipe file set-up. Here’s how to put it to good use.
Build your tone of voice
Your tone of voice is what sets you apart from other writers.
Think about it: if you were to make a list of your favorite writers, those with a distinctive tone of voice would most likely come out on top.
Your swipe file can help to build yours.
So, take some time to read through the snippets you’ve saved in your swipe file. Make a note of the:
- Sentence length
- Bucket brigades
- Use of abbreviations
- Formal or informal
…most of your examples use. You’ll start to notice common denominators between the examples you’ve bookmarked. That will show the tone of voice you most enjoy reading–and could inspire your own.
Let’s put that into practice and say most of the copywriting snippets in your swipe file use short, snappy sentences. You find that most interesting to read. So, try to practice that in your own writing.
Similarly, if most of your bookmarks use bucket brigades, experiment with adding them into your work.
Combining both of these things will help you build a tone of voice that’s distinctive.
Reference it when writing
What good is a swipe file if it just sits there doing nothing?
Build your swipe file into your writing workflow by referencing it whenever you’re creating a new piece of content.
One thing that’s interesting to note here is that you shouldn’t just rely on your swipe file when you’re writing the complete draft. Your swipe file should be a source of inspiration for you. Reference it in the outline stage when you’re putting a narrative together.
For example: if you’re blogging about SEO, check through your swipe file and see if you’ve bookmarked any unique opinions from thought leaders in your industry.
If you’re writing a welcome email sequence, check through your swipe file and see which companies have great onboarding experiences.
If you’re writing sales copy, look in your swipe file and see which examples convinced you to buy the item by just reading the content above the fold.
Build on the copywriting formulas you’ve saved
We briefly touched on the fact that a swipe file isn’t there to plagiarize.
(Plagiarism happens when you blatantly copy another person’s writing. Not only is it against most terms of service, but it’s generally a terrible practice. People want to read new, exciting things.)
The goal of a swipe file is to help you flesh-out your own content.
Take a look at your swipe file and identify any copywriting formulas that you could replicate.
Start building your swipe file today
Every freelance writer should have their own swipe file. Not only will it help you create your tone of voice, but it will also be your secret weapon in writing unique content.
But remember: creating yours won’t happen overnight. It can take weeks, months, and even years to build a personal library of copywriting examples that you can draw inspiration from. It’s more than worth it.
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