Long-form copy is just what it sounds like: a long form version of a standard article of piece of information. There’s this idea that adults don’t have the attention span to read, but they do.
They read books all of the time. And even if they do read shorter-form content, they’ll often read the same theme successively, tapping various outlets or platforms to re-read the same news story, etc.
Point being: many kinds of thinkers and learners like to be thorough. The best way to present information thoroughly, most of the time, is to go long-form.
What is Long-Form Copy?
I’d say that anything 1500 words or above could be considered long-form copy.
Types of Long-Form Copy
There are a few types of long-form copy you’ll encounter in marketing copywriting.
The most common are:
When Should You Use Long-Form Copy?
Not every idea needs full-scale coverage or long-form treatment. How do you know when to use long-form copy?
Let’s break it down by type, because the litmus test will vary.
When to Create a Long SEO Pillar
This is the easiest one in a way, because the data will dictate when an SEO piece should use more words. Some SEO keyphrases get this kind of coverage in SERP, and in this case, the competition sets the terms of play. You can use a tool like Surfer SEO or similar to evaluate how many words the top-ranking URLs for a certain keyphrase use. Then, you’ll know if you need to be up in the 2000+ range in order to compete.
When to Write an eBook
eBooks really do run a gamut of length, but I think you need at least 10 pages or so to qualify as an eBook (and not just an informational piece of designed article). An eBook isn’t just the PDF version of something: it should go deeper and provide the reader with more information on a specific topic.
I’d suggest you have a good topic for an eBook if it meets these criteria:
- It’s hard to get the idea across in short-form
- There are a lot of preliminary terms or considerations you have to lay down to make a point
- You are dealing with more than one topic or a macro topic that encompasses a lot of sub-ideas
- You want to provide the reader with information across a whole product or service line, or otherwise highlight a whole range of complementary goods or services
All of these are clues that you need to move toward an eBook.
When to Write a Whitepaper
Whitepapers can also run a range and honestly, I think a lot of marketers write whitepapers that aren’t really whitepapers.
Whitepapers should be technical. They should gather research. Ideally, they have at least some first-party data. If no first-party data is going to be presented, they at the very least need to present an expert perspective on a set of well-documented and reliable data. Whitepapers should be presented in an academic way, with plenty of substance and very little fluff.
- You have a thesis that can be set forth in a premise, with supporting evidence, that leads to a conclusion
- You are presenting a truly novel idea, not just restating something many other people have said
- You have access to a variety of very good and quantifiably accurate source materials
- There is a lot of research or citation required to confidently/clearly state your message
If you tick those boxes, a whitepaper could be a great long-form asset choice.
Writing a whitepaper? Here’s a good piece from Sanders: WHAT TO AVOID WHEN WRITING YOUR CRYPTOCURRENCY WHITE PAPER
When to Create a Long-Form Deck
The decks a marketing writer would most likely be asked to help with are pitch decks. These can be related to an RFP, a funding asset, or a sales deck. If the product, service, or company has a compelling case to make and there is a lot of data and information to present, a long-form deck is usually how it gets organized.
Long-Form Copy Structure
In all of the types of long-form copy listed above, you need to eat the elephant in a strategic way. These are not little tasks that take a week. Some people take six months to write a whitepaper or a year to write a really substantial eBook. Keep that in mind and pace yourself through the many stages it takes to get one of these pieces polished and out into the world.
Here are the steps I go through in long-form copy.
Create a Table of Contents
First things first: create a table of contents, or what we affectionately call a TOC. A table of contents is imperative and you should create one that every stakeholder agrees on before you even begin a word of copywriting.
You can use this traditional formatting, which I find supeh helpful for informational structure:
>Sub idea (traditionally indented)
>>Sub sub idea (indented twice)
Second Big Idea
>Sub idea 1
>Sub idea 2
>Sub idea 3
>>Sub sub idea 3
And so on.
You can execute this layout for any long-form copy and it will not only help everyone agree on what’s in the piece, but in what order and with what level of prominence.
Outline it First
After TOC is established, you want to create a robust outline that includes notes. This will be rough and a work in progress (WIP). Again, this keeps you from steaming ahead into extremely time-consuming copy before everyone has weighed in.
Things you should include in a long-form copy outline are:
- The topics you plan to cover - big ideas or points to be made
- The references you plan to use - add the URLs and original citation
- Any lists or additional elements for each section
- Graphic tips or any data visualizations that will be needed
- Sectioning, including headlines, page breaks, line breaks, callout boxes, etc.
BIG TIP — Based on considerable experience, I recommend having the TOC in one doc, the outline in a second doc, and the actual copy in a third doc. You can go back into version changes but it’s a huge pain. Better to have these resources separate. Plus, if you’re like me, you’ll have the outline next to the active doc as you go so you can see big picture while you’re writing the details.
Write in Chunks First, Then Add Flow
With any giant piece of content (I’ve written long-form copy that’s 30k words), you will need to chunk it out so you can write complete thoughts well. I think it’s most efficient to do it this way, writing section by section at a certain cadence. Then, when all of the bones are in, you can go back in and add fluid transitions and a narrative flow.
I’ll also mention that I think it’s a time-saver to write long-form content this way. Almost always, no matter how painstakingly you’ve done the table of contents and outline, the order of things could change. No need to have meticulously transitioned each section as you go only to have it reworked. Get the facts and figures and important ideas in, then you can smooth it out after.
Plan Revision Cycles
Long-form copy is not just time-consuming to write, it’s super time-consuming to edit. Consider the investment and the nature of these pieces when you plan. Most of the time, a company is paying big bucks to get a writer on board for these, or they’re allocating a lot of their own person power to it, which is also a financial investment.
Many times, this is intellectual property (IP) and so all docs and work has to be carefully controlled and not widely distributed. I could go on - point being, these are serious matters and it’s important that you plan for people to take their time through revisions.
Don’t expect quick turnarounds from stakeholders. It’s likely that the most significant time spend will happen during revision cycles, and I’d plan for at least three of them.
Long-Form Copy: Final Tips
A few final tips for writers when it comes to writing long pieces of work:
Don’t lose the thread. The worst thing you can do is start in one tone and end in another, but it’s so easy to lose the thread of the voice or vibe as you go through a piece of long-form content, especially because you’ll never write it all in one sitting. Establish the person you’re writing in, the audience you’re writing to, the tone, and all writing conventions before you begin. Otherwise you can get really lost along the way.
Edit as you go. If you do what I recommend above and write in chunks, then edit as you go. I actually edit shorter batches of content when I’m writing long-form than I do when I’m writing short-form. That’s mostly because I need to make sure I’m balancing the logic with the goal with the research and many other factors. It’s a lot to keep in your head all at once, and continuous editing ensures you’re not leaving little concepts all over the place.
Keep the cutting floor. In the olden days of journalism and film, when we used paper and real film, there was a “cutting floor” where the discarded bits and pieces fell. I keep a Google Doc anytime I’m writing long-form with all of the cuts, or the things that were edited out of a piece. Because of the complexity of editing cycles in long copy projects, I want to be sure I preserve something that one person liked and another person didn’t. It comes up all of the time and I’m always happy I kept it somewhere handy.
Hire a Writer for an eBook… or Whitepaper… or Deck
At Hire a Writer™, we are hyper-specialized for a reason. This is an immensely challenging craft and there are many people who are simply not skilled enough to write a cohesive, compelling piece of long-form copy. If you need a writer for an eBook, whitepaper, deck, or similar, connect with us anytime.